The Financial Professional is an essential member of the collaborative team, but some attorneys and clients are not clear how to use their unique skills to enhance the collaborative process. To help attorneys and clients who are not familiar with the unique advantages of using a financial professional as a member of the collaborative team, consider the following roles that a financial professional may play.
Financial specialists are especially adept at finding all the financial assets owned by the couple. Rather than simply giving an inventory and appraisement form to the client and asking him or her to complete it, the financial professional can jointly interview both clients and collect statements and other documents associated with all their assets. The financial professional will usually employ an asset checklist to make certain all assets are disclosed. Next, the financial professional will input these assets into a spreadsheet showing account numbers, type of asset, valuation of the asset, and whether the item is community or separate property.
Clarifying the Financial Professional’s Assignment
Team practices vary so it’s important for the financial professional to discuss with the attorneys exactly what is his or her job on the team. For example, was the financial professional hired to collect all information from the clients and make certain there is full disclosure or is the financial professional’s job simply to develop a spread sheet and discuss financial issues with the clients?
What the Financial Professional Does
The financial professional is uniquely qualified to identify and characterize assets and liabilities and determine how they are titled, collect account numbers, dates of statements, balances as of a specific date, and perform a forensic analysis to see if there is any evidence of hidden assets. For example, the financial professional can discover when the family home was purchased, the source of the down payment, and the balance of the mortgage on the property. Also, the financial professional can identify who is living there and what are the future plans for the home. Next, the financial professional can enter these assets and liabilities into a spreadsheet to help the attorneys and clients negotiate a fair asset division.
The financial professional must maintain neutrality at all times and make certain both clients feel comfortable with the process. If one client seems to be answering all the financial questions, it’s good practice to meet individually with the other client and get his or her input. If a client’s report of any asset does not match the documents or the statements of the other spouse, the financial professional should note that “wife said this” and “husband said this,” without making any decision about the accuracy of these statements.
Both clients should have an opportunity to review and comment on the inventory and appraisement, spreadsheet, budget, and disclosure forms. Clients need to be reminded that it’s important for the information to be accurate so they will trust the final settlement agreement. Both the clients and attorneys should review these documents and discuss them with the financial professional if there are any questions or concerns.
Continue Gathering Financial Information
New assets or liabilities may be discovered at any stage of the collaborative process so it’s important to keep asking, in a neutral and non-judgmental way, if there are any additional assets or liabilities to be found. Assure the clients that they will have every opportunity to review, clarify, understand, and correct the documents before they sign.
Finally, in addition to collecting financial information about the family’s assets and liabilities, the financial professional can answer questions the clients have about their finances so that both are adequately prepared to negotiate a fair settlement of their asset division.