emotional , can be disastrous . “ I spent nearly a decade resolving and litigating high-net-worth divorce cases ,” says Patrick Kilbane , a partner , wealth advisor and general counsel at Ullmann Wealth Partners in Jacksonville Beach , Fla .
To avert such disasters , he recommends “ listening carefully to ascertain what each party is trying to accomplish , [ then ] propose creative solutions .” If that ’ s not possible , he says , “ I ask them if they will let me serve as their informal arbitrator .”
Savvy advisors must also have the humility to realize their own limits . “ I ’ ve been doing this long enough to know that I ’ m not capable of resolving a lot of differences between spouses ,” says Casey Pisano , a wealth advisor at Biondo Investment Advisors in Sparta , N . J .
Nevertheless , he says , “ When it comes to differences about money , usually it helps to dig a little deeper .”
The core issue often concerns a sense of security , he explains , which may hark back to “ some experience in their family where the lack of that [ security ] caused some pain .” Once it ’ s out in the open and duly acknowledged , though , “ you can make progress and talk about the costs and benefits of different approaches ,” Pisano says .
Yet when it comes to resolving other differences between battling spouses , “ Don ’ t ,” says Charles Lewis Sizemore of Sizemore Capital Management in Dallas . “ You ’ re an advisor , not a marriage counselor . … You really don ’ t want to get in the middle of a family squabble .”
Understanding The Emotions
Indeed , planning may have as much to do with emotions as facts and figures . “ During the discovery meeting , I ask both partners how they grew up around money , if their family ever discussed money , and their values about money ,” says John Fiorito , an advisor at Wealthcare Advisory Partners in New York City .
To that end , he has given clients cards that contain various sayings about life and planning goals , and used a “ dream board ” to facilitate frank conversations about what they want to achieve with their money . “ I continue to ask open-ended questions to learn more about what is important to them and why ,” he says .
Rick Polenske , managing director at Robertson Stephens in Boise , Idaho , uses a similar approach . It “ helps us come up with strategies that fit a majority of the couple ’ s needs ,” he says . “ They will have to go
home and iron out the differences , but allowing us to ask the important questions gets them to a point of understanding and compromise .”
It is , to be sure , a process that ’ s not always quickly resolved . “ Within the planning process , we uncover both clients ’ authentic goals and triggering fears around money ,” explains Hayley Wood Bates , an advisor at Signature Estate & Investment Advisors in Los Angeles . “ The result is the true holistic planning that many advisors state they do and rarely achieve .”
Drawing Out All Sides It ’ s not unusual for one partner to speak more than the other . Don ’ t make the mistake of listening exclusively to the one who is more forthcoming , even if that seems easier .
“ If you only address the person doing the most talking , if you don ’ t turn to the other and say , ‘ Tell me what you ’ re most concerned about , what ’ s important for you to accomplish ,’ you may be losing the person who is really going to decide ,” cautions Beau Henderson , founder of RichLife Advisors in Gainesville , Ga . “ A lot of times , the person who is not talking is the one who will have the final say .”
Not making the effort to draw out all family members , he stresses , is a recipe for disaster . “ They won ’ t feel heard ,” says Henderson , adding that that ’ s why
38 | FINANCIAL ADVISOR MAGAZINE | MARCH 2023 WWW . FA-MAG . COM