(Dow Jones) Estate planning often takes place in the office of a lawyer or advisor, but those professionals can gain a big advantage when they make house calls.
A visit to a client's home or place of business can yield insight into net worth, or help disclose specific assets that need special treatment. It can reveal who is important in a family-owned partnership or show the relationship between parent and child. And it helps to create a bond with the client that can result in a better plan.
Milford B. Hatcher, a partner at Holland & Knight in Jacksonville, Fla., says estate planning "is a 'people practice,' and a house call promotes personalization." An advisor who has been in a client's home tends to be viewed as a friend as well as a professional, and that helps communication, he says.
To some extent, whether house calls are made is a question of geography. A wealthy pair in the New York City area may visit an estate attorney between lunch in an East Side restaurant and an evening show on Broadway. In the West, it may be up to the advisor to drive miles to the client. Most advisors do some of both.
Pretty much everyone agrees, though, on the benefits of seeing someone on his or her own turf. While visiting a home, an advisor may spot something the owner did not think needed special attention. A Picasso or Matisse, for example, can be hard to divide among several people; in this case, it might be wise to sell the art and divide the profits. A valuable wine collection should go to someone who can care afford to care for it properly.
John M. Olivieri, a partner in the Private Clients Practice Group at White & Case LLP, in New York, had a client who collected cars but failed to tell the advisor about it.
"It's hard to miss a garage with 11 cars in it," says Olivieri. After seeing it himself, he was able to counsel the owner on how to plan for its eventual disposal.
A better sense of personality and values also can emerge. Advisors often hear a lot of very negative-or positive-comments about children from a client, and can better divine the truth in person. Seeing the real relationship can help decide, for example, whether to go with a long- or short-term trust, and who should be named trustee, according to Dennis I. Belcher, a partner at McGuireWoods in Richmond, Va.
At a client's office, the bond between the client and colleagues can be clearer. During the past few years, Belcher has visited more and more clients at their businesses or homes, he says.
Olivieri, in New York, holds some meetings in his midtown Manhattan office, but he also travels. A client in Florida prefers to have him to meet her there. For another, he went to Switzerland.