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Why you shouldn't ignore clients' kids

James J. Silbernagel, LUTCF, CFP

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How to explain the importance of a power of attorney for families.

I hear a lot of people who I think miss the boat when they say, “I don’t work with the kids because they don’t have enough money. I just go where the money is. I just go elephant hunting and the heck with everything else.”

I didn’t work this hard just to have everything walk out the door.

I make it a mandatory part of the process now where I have the kids in. I say, “Your kids are my ground troops. I’ve got to let them know where the signposts are, and they’ve got to let me know when you get there.”

There are a lot of things that could happen, and if the kids are going to be in the role of helping mom and dad, to go into a stressful situation not knowing what is expected of you or what the options are is a pretty scary thing.

So I tell them, “Bring your kids in — we’re going to do a family meeting. And we’ll decide if we’re going to tell them right down to the nitty gritty or if it’s going to be a 32,000-foot overview.”

They bring all the kids in, and they self-screen. The ones who are embarrassed because they have $30,000 of credit card debt, are upside down on everything and can’t save a nickel are not going to waste your time. They don’t want to lay out their dirty laundry. The kids that are responsible will come in, and they’re worth working with.

The thing is when the parents leave their inheritance to those kids, I’m the only guy who ever took time to sit down with them. And then when I work with those kids, they’re usually married, and the spouse has parents they’re really concerned about. And it’s just this never-ending chain. So I really don’t have to do a lot of prospecting because they come to me.

Protecting the kids

One of my questions for clients who are my age is, “Do your kids have financial and health care powers of attorney?” They’re like, “What are you talking about?”

We had a client in Wisconsin whose kid was going to school in Colorado. The kid was in a car accident. A friend who was with him called the parents and said, “I thought you should know: Your son and I were in a car accident together, and they’re taking him to the hospital.”

“What hospital?”

“I don’t know.”

They figured out where the accident was; it meant he was at one of two hospitals. They start calling the hospitals. “Is my son there?” “We can’t tell you.” They have this 18, 19-year-old who just moved out of the house. Imagine being a mom, your baby just moved away, and now you find out he might be dead, might be in a coma, might be just fine, but you don’t know. He’s a thousand miles away, and you don’t even know where he is. It’s one of the scariest things that could happen.

When parents leave their inheritance to those kids, I'm the only guy who ever took time to sit down with them.

I asked this question to one client, and he said, “Our son is going to South Africa as an exchange student in a couple of weeks. Do you think he should have it?” I said, “Absolutely. There’s no doubt about it in my mind.” “Well, we’re so busy, I’m not sure we can get him in.” I said, “I don’t know what your list of priorities is, but this is the first thing you do. Before you pack his clothes, you get him in the office. We’ll have the attorney draft powers of attorney, health care and financial.”

The client's son got sick over there. They would not have been able to bring him back if it weren’t for this document.

Now every time this person runs into me, he brings everybody over. “You’ve got to talk to this guy. He saved our family.” Now do I get paid for doing that? Absolutely not. Not monetarily. But the emotional payback on something like that is enormous, knowing you’ve touched a family.

James Silbernagel is a 23-year MDRT member from Kewaskum, Wisconsin.

Hear how these issues affected Silbernagel personally in the MDRT Podcast at


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