This advisor learned some valuable lessons from personal experience.

    It's one thing to give advice on a particular topic, but it can be an eye-opening experience to have the shoe on the other foot.
    In his role as a financial advisor, Mark Kaizerman had counseled people on handling assets in the event of disability or death. But after his father was told in 2003 that he had less than six months to live, Kaizerman went through his father's financial paperwork to get things in order.
    "I've been counseling people in these situations for years," says Kaizerman. "But after I went through it myself I realized how cloudy, distorting and emotionally overwhelming the process can."
    It could've been worse had Kaizerman and his father not systematically combed through the files to earmark the most important documents. With that in order, Kaizerman had a roadmap to carry out his father's wishes.
    The whole process tied into Kaizerman's interest in asset transfers between family members. Much has been made of the intergenerational wealth transfer from older to younger Americans, where a collective $41 trillion nationwide (give or take a few trillion) is expected to be passed down over the next half century. But Kaizerman saw another component of this scenario: the intergenerational transfer of paperwork.
    While the focus is often on IRAs and IRA beneficiaries, Kaizerman realized that documents pertaining to important assets such as property, autos, art work and other items could potentially fall through the cracks. He hadn't heard much about the topic, and he figured it might be a novel area to focus on and add value for his clients.
    "It comes down to finding an unaddressed niche, perhaps a noninvestment-related niche so the client relationship isn't affected by overall market conditions," says Kaizerman. "From my standpoint, it's a relationship-based approach to being an advisor to the family. That sets us up as being the intergenerational advisor and helps prevent losing assets after the client dies."
    As part of the process, Kaizerman last year developed a concept called the beneficiary directory. The directory helps people organize and store their vital financial documents to help guide the transfer of assets to the next generation or two.
    Kaizerman is a certified public accountant and certified financial planner who founded Kaizerman & Associates in 1994. Prior to that, he was an accountant and then a financial planner with American Express. Based in the Boston suburb of Natick, his firm has roughly 325 clients and $55 million in assets under management. It's a small shop, comprised of Kaizerman and a couple of administrative assistants.
    When it comes to estate planning, Kaizerman's focus is centered on the intergenerational transfer of assets and information rather than just estate planning per se. The latter is more about making sure someone has a will, he says, adding that the former puts a face on the issue by bringing children and grandchildren front and center. "It has a lot more meaning to it," he offers.
    In most cases people tend to focus on taking care of the spouse, notes Kaizerman. Often, getting people to think beyond the spouse is a matter of asking the right question. "I don't need an answer right then and there," he says. "I'm just putting the idea in their head."
    Kaizerman walks his clients through the beneficiary directory checklist, and in the process learns a lot about their children and grandchildren. He also learns about the finances of the client's parents and how they dealt with money. This helps give him a better understanding about the client's values and how they want their affairs handled in the event of disability or death.
    The beneficiary directory entails locating all manner of financial documents and storing them in an easily accessible place (preferably with copies stored in a backup location such as the financial advisor's office). It collects contact information for key people such as accountants, attorneys and financial advisors, and it designates the person or persons responsible for handling the client's financial affairs.
    Kaizerman has found that clients can easily lose track of important information pertaining to insurance, deeds and titles, and investment accounts. Not long ago he had a conversation with another advisor who was interested in the beneficiary directory process. But before he could act on it, one of his clients called to say his wife had to enter a nursing home and he couldn't find a copy of the durable power of attorney. It's the desire to avoid such situations that led Kaizerman last year to publish his beneficiary directory in book form.
    Not all of Kaizerman's clients are receptive to the message, nor do all qualify to receive the message as part of their service-at least not without paying extra for it, that is. He took on all comers in the early days of his practice, but he now focuses on finding what he calls "ideal clients" who must meet certain criteria. One is a minimum of $500,000 in investable assets; three other criteria pertain to a desire for a comprehensive relationship with a financial advisor. "They have to embrace financial planning and put all of their assets with us," he says.
    Kaizerman's ultimate goal is to have 100 so-called ideal clients and then close the doors, taking on no new clients other than offspring from existing ideal clients. That's part of the intergenerational focus of his practice.
    He adopted this policy two years ago, and to date he has 38 ideal clients. These people get a higher service level that includes quarterly meetings with Kaizerman and having the beneficiary directory as part of the package. He doesn't take on any new clients who don't qualify for ideal status. "I think the key to being a good financial planner is determining during the first interview whether you and the client can work together," says Kaizerman.
    Existing clients who've been on board before Kaizerman's strategic shift have the option to step up to ideal status. If not, Kaizerman will remain their advisor but at a reduced service level that entails yearly meetings and a commission-based arrangement (ideal clients are fee-based at an average of 1%). The beneficiary directory service is available to them for a fee. "I made a commitment to them a long time ago and I'll honor that commitment," he says. "But they're aware our new program is being rolled out to the ideal client group."
    Either way, Kaizerman stresses to his clients the need to develop habits of wealth, and one of the ways to do that is to develop a dedicated savings plan. Naturally, some clients say they can't afford to do that, and that includes some who have a fortune in qualified money. The goal is to get them to build up their nonqualified investment pool.
    "We tell them that a monthly savings plan isn't a financial decision, it's a quality-of-life decision," says Kaizerman. "How much you save is a financial decision."
    Kaizerman shies away from money management and instead focuses on putting together investment strategies based on fee-based mutual fund platforms from his broker-dealer, Royal Alliance Associates. "I'd rather pay someone else with the expertise to do that so I can manage the relationship," he says.
    Increasingly, the beneficiary directory is a big part of that relationship. "Ultimately, it helps me provide better service in times of crisis," says Kaizerman.
    Beneficiary Directory, Your Personal System to Organize Your Important Documents and Guide Your Beneficiaries (published by Just Write Books), is available at

Jeff Schlegel writes about business and finance from Yardley, Pa.