Building a strong wealth management team

Steve Merrell |


Managing personal wealth can be a daunting task. The greater your wealth, the more complex the challenge. In addition to a sound understanding of basic financial principles, wealth management requires in-depth expertise in tax planning, estate planning and investment management. Since each of these fields is highly technical, most people are unable to master them all. Instead, it makes sense to surround yourself with a team of professionals who can help you carry the load.


Your professional team should include a financial advisor, an estate-planning attorney, and a tax professional. Because you will need to rely on this team, look for candidates who have excellent technical expertise and reputations for diligence and integrity. You also need to find people you can trust. Wealth management is a big job and you deserve the best. The following ideas should help build a strong and capable team.


Your financial advisor should be someone with certified expertise, experience, and who will put your interests first. A number of certifications exist, but the most relevant and widely recognized credential for wealth management is the Certified Financial Planner® or CFP® designation. A CFP® professional has a broad knowledge of personal finance and has demonstrated her mastery of relevant principles by passing a rigorous exam and working at least three years in the financial planning industry. Continuing education helps the CFP® professional stay current.


Some financial advisors are fiduciaries. A fiduciary is someone who is legally obligated to put your interests first. You can tell if an advisor is a fiduciary by asking a simple question: Does the advisor or his firm have any incentive to sell me anything? Do they earn commissions, participate in revenue sharing, or receive referral fees? If they do not, chances are the advisor is a fiduciary. If they do, be aware of the conflict of interest. If you choose to work with an advisor who is a fiduciary, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors is an organization of fee-only financial advisors. Their website ( is a great resource to find advisors who are true fiduciaries.


When considering an estate-planning attorney, look for someone with certified estate planning expertise. The California State Bar Association has a program to certify legal specialists in several areas, including estate planning, trusts and probate. To qualify as an estate planning specialist, an attorney needs to pass a certifying exam, complete at least 45 hours of estate planning continuing education and work in the estate planning field for a sufficient amount of time. The California State Bar keeps a list of attorneys by specialty in each county. We are fortunate in Monterey County to have several excellent estate planning attorneys. You can find a listing of specialists at the Bar Association’s legal specialization website:


Some CPAs and all EAs (Enrolled Agents) are tax professionals. The best way to find the tax professional you need is to network with your other professionals. Ask them whom they recommend. As you work with your financial advisor and attorney, it will become apparent what expertise you need your tax professional to possess.


Other professionals can also be a great help when it comes to managing your wealth. For example, a strong insurance agent can help you figure out how to most cost-effectively protect yourself and your loved ones from some of the adversities of life. You might also benefit from developing a good relationship with a mortgage banker. In any case, a careful review of your financial needs can help you identify and assemble a strong team of advisors to help you protect and grow your wealth.



Steven C. Merrell  MBA, CFP®, AIF® is a Partner at Monterey Private Wealth, Inc., a Wealth Management Firm in Monterey.   He welcomes questions that you may have concerning investments, taxes, retirement, or estate planning.  Send your questions to: Steve Merrell, 2340 Garden Road Suite 202, Monterey, CA  93940 or email them to