Character is important when it comes to choosing your advisors.  These are the people who help you make decisions about the most important things in your life—financial security, protecting your family, preserving your privacy—and when something happens to you these are the people who (you hope) will help your loved ones get through the difficult times. So when I came across this article from MSNBC about copper heiress Huguette Clark and her shady advisors, it really made me think about my own firm, and the kind of relationship I would like to have with my clients.

As an ethical tax and asset protection attorney, I work hard to protect my clients from financial abuse or mismanagement of assets.  I work closely with my client’s team of advisors to make sure the family’s goals are being carried out in a responsible and fiscally prudent manner. And I consider it my responsibility to protect both my initial clients and their families and beneficiaries from unethical and unscrupulous conduct.

Being an ethical advisor means not only helping my clients with their legal considerations, it also means helping them find the resources they need to supplement and build upon the services I offer.  For example, I can help a family create a trust to protect their wealth, but the trust won’t be complete unless the family is able to find and appoint a well-respected and ethical corporate Trustee, who is insured and bonded. I can help them do this.

Finding ethical advisors isn’t always as easy as you might hope. A degree from a well-respected university can vouch for a person’s intelligence and education, but it doesn’t testify to their moral character; and if you can’t rely solely on a person’s intellectual aptitude, how are you to find the advisors who will do right by you and your loved ones in years to come?  Here are a few suggestions:

* Always interview a potential advisor in person.  Intuition is important, and often the feeling you have when walking away from the first interview is your best guide to whether or not the advisor is someone you can trust.

* Ask for references.  Aside from the value of a sincere testimonial, references tell you whether or not your candidate’s clients are “your kind of people.” They say that you can tell a lot about a person by the company he keeps; likewise, you can tell a lot about an advisor by the kind of client they have.  Are the people you talk to down-to-earth? Are they enthusiastic?

* Check up on your candidate’s history.  A quick Google search (or ABA search if your candidate is an attorney) will usually tell you if there are any disciplinary actions, serious complaints, or other red flags in his or her past.

* Consider how your potential advisor will be compensated. Is it by flat fee or by commission?  Each method provides a different motivation.  Make sure you’re comfortable with the method used by the advisor you choose.

* And perhaps the most reliable method of finding an ethical advisor is to get recommendations from people you already trust. Family, friends, neighbors, and especially your existing advisors can all be valuable resources. Along the same lines, if you have a lawyer, CPA, or financial advisor that you think is particularly good don’t be afraid to give out your own recommendation!

The nieces and nephews of Huguette Clark are currently going through a court battle in their effort to protect their aunt.  Unfortunately, shady advisors are all too common lately, as anyone who followed the Brooke Astor case knows. Finding advisors with character and experience may take a little more time and effort at the outset, but the security of your loved ones and your own peace of mind make the search worthwhile.

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