In some of my recent client meetings, I’ve felt as though some of my clients that have shown up were completely different people compared to my previous interactions while working through their succession planning issues. When I called one of my clients out on this “difference” recently, it was her remark that “Sybil had shown up,” calling to mind the movie depicting a character suffering from a multiple personality disorder. Not meaning to make light of a true multiple personality issue, I’ve been using the analogy ever since, applying it to the dynamic process that I’ve learned succession planning can be.

So, how can an advisor work effectively with the dynamics of succession planning? First and foremost, we all need to remind ourselves that we’re dealing with people and people are, fundamentally, emotional. Therefore, we are dealing with emotions. Further, we need to understand that those emotions are playing out in the relationships of the people involved in and impacted by succession planning.

To add to the difficult dynamics that come into play with succession planning, we as advisors are faced with explaining the complexities of topics such as advanced estate and asset transfer techniques in a clear and comprehensible manner to our clients. It needs to be remembered that the language we are speaking to our clients is new to them, and our challenge as advisors is to communicate clearly to our clients what we are talking about while helping them to take action on things they are just starting to understand.

We need to keep in mind that in spite of all our tax planning expertise, knowledge, methods, and abilities to transfer vast amounts of wealth to the next generation in a tax-efficient manner, the tax tail should never wag the dog.  This requires us to remember that we’re dealing with people, emotions, and relationships.

The more we, as advisors, can understand the human, relational, and emotional aspects that are involved in succession planning, the more effective we will be in impacting lives and perpetuating family business legacies.  Our ability to empathize with the emotional reactions and validate those feelings will position us to help our clients make the changes they need to in order to accomplish their planning objectives. So, if you are a succession planning professional, do yourself and your clients a favor and spend some continuing education efforts on beefing up your skills on the people side of the planning equation. All of the greatest tax planning techniques at our disposal will only get us so far if we ignore the emotional circumstances that they will be used in.

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