This post was authored by Jeffrey Dunham, Dunham's Chairman/CEO. If you have questions concerning today's topic, please call us at (858) 964 - 0500. Hold us to higher standards.

When I work with a financial advisor to help them land a high net worth or ultra-high net worth client, I find that in almost every case, I need to point out that this group does not appreciate canned solutions.

They are not impressed with the “62 questions to ask a high net worth client” that the financial advisor downloaded. Their expectations are far higher than that. They rarely are captivated by the “products” your firm offers, the technology you have, and I point out that every financial advisor tells the prospect that the service their firm provides is peerless.

Simply put, if you truly want to bring that large marlin onto your boat, the only way I have found to accomplish that is to develop trust from the very beginning of your relationship with them.

You develop that trust by listening and by understanding what is important to them.

I do not like coming to a meeting with a prepared PowerPoint presentation or a spiral bound deck to show what we can do for the prospect and their family. Instead, I prefer a yellow pad and when available a white board so we can engage in a conversation and not a presentation.

In my experience, money leads to challenges. The more money the Matriarch and Patriarch have, the more challenges there may be in the family because money acts as a magnifier. It serves to enlarge values and habits, some which are healthy and some which are not. This is why I start by understanding what their pain is.  What are the challenges that they are facing and might want help with?

The critical point is that since I am not “presenting” or reading from questions and instead engaged in a conversation, allowing them to begin to discuss the values they have, their view of wealth, and the control they may want. The conversation allows me to understand what is important to them, not what is important for the financial advisor and certainly not what is important to me.

I then write 5 words on the white board or my yellow pad and hold it so they can see it.

Transfer of:




I ask them to rank these three objectives in order based on what is most and least important to them because that answer leads me to what they hold most sacred. The tendency from the client will be to say that all of them are important but I force them to pick one of them.

If family values is their pick, we begin by discussing things like family meetings, a family board if a family business is involved, and we speak about guardrails that can be placed around specific values the Matriarch and Patriarch have through the use of trusts, to incentivize behavior towards those values.

An example of this was a Matriarch and Patriarch who valued education. We built a dynastic trust for current generations and generations yet unborn that provided payment of tuition for their education and achieving satisfactory grades. It also provided monetary incentives and cash payments for continuing their education and obtaining professional designations. This included, passing their bar exam, CPA exam, their masters, doctorate, and so on.

This was because education was what the Matriarch and Patriarch valued most.

If family wealth is picked we discuss items like efficient transfer of the assets to the next generations, asset protection of those assets against creditors, predators, and divorcing spouses who married into the family. We discuss the use of Dynasty Trusts to create a legacy for Matriarch and Patriarch for the next 11 generations without any estate tax.

We discuss the family business and valuation discounts to transfer the assets at a minimal estate tax and for those assets to grow outside of their estate. If they live in a state with high income tax, we will look at creating trusts that can eliminate some of that state income tax to further preserve the family wealth not only when they pass away, but while they are in the process of accumulating that wealth.

If family control is their pick, we turn our discussion to trusts and tools that may focus the Matriarch and Patriarch on maintaining all of the decision making rights and views income tax, estate tax, or asset protection as secondary objectives.

We explore directed revocable trusts that allow complete control by the Matriarch and Patriarch.

Once I have establish trust and set myself exactly on the same page they are on, I then seek to gain a deeper understanding of the aspects of their thinking. When appropriate, I dig into discussions of:

Saving substantial income taxes annually

Saving substantial estate taxes

Asset protection for the kids, the grandchildren, and the great grandchildren against creditors, predators, and bad marriages by the kids or grandchildren.

Control of the assets transferred

Lifestyle protection for their kids

Lifestyle for grandchildren and great grandchildren

Charities and causes that are run by people they know and who they trust today

Charities and causes they believe in regardless of who is running them

Having initiative ruined by affluence

Installing guardrails that will be monitored by friends, colleges, or advisors they trust

Family harmony


Financial advisors develop trust by helping the prospect rank their priorities. They develop trust by really listening to the Matriarch and Patriarch and not being surprised when saving taxes is not their number one objective.

You can earn trust by being viewed as their partner in planning and by helping them with self-examination and setting priorities.