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Going Beyond the Tax Organizer

Grandparents planning retirement estateWhile the client’s tax organizer is critical to preparing a client’s tax return, it can also be a doorway to building a long-term relationship with the client. Interpreting the client’s responses can lead to discussions on a wide variety of issues that the client may need help resolving in the future.  If you can position yourself as the quarterback of the family’s financial team, they will look to you again and again as they continually prepare for and resolve financial issues.

Let start with the “dependents” section on the tax organizer.  Knowing more about the children not only helps you predict college planning needs but knowing those details of your client’s family will help you to identify additional needs that might require specialized planning expertise.  For example, in planning for the kids’ education needs, has the client mentioned special education requirements for any of the dependents that will require significant funds?  Dependent issues also go “up” the family tree.  For example,

  • Have you discussed with the client the financial status of their aging parents and whether their resources will be adequate to support them?
  • Have you raised the possibility of the client needing to support an elderly parent and provide for their living conditions?
  • You have reviewed the client’s powers of attorney for health and financial issues, but have you considered meeting with their designated assignees to create a personal relationship in preparation for the time they will need to make decisions for the client?

Tax checkupMedical expenses are another area on the organizer you will want to explore to find other planning opportunities.

  • Has there been a significant increase in medical expenses and has the client mentioned a change in a family member’s health conditions that could require specialized health care expenditures?
  • Have you considered whether to consult with practitioners that specialize in Medicare or Medicaid eligibility issues for dependents?
  • Will medical circumstances require special planning for financial support over their lifetimes and what financial resources are available for long-term care, beyond government benefits?

Reviewing what the client is saying (or doesn’t say) in the organizer and asking the appropriate follow-up questions moves you well along the path of becoming that most trusted advisor by demonstrating your expertise and the value in trusting your counsel.

Often the most important role you can play is that of being the family counselor, social worker, and general advisor.  By extension, when you recommend an associate to provide a related or additional service, that trust will extend to those professionals as well.

Often the most important roles you can play are that of being the family counselor, social worker and general advisor.  By extension, when you recommend an associate to provide a related or additional service, that trust will extend to those professionals as well.

So take advantage of the next opportunity for an interview with your client.  Be prepared to look beyond the organizer.  Ask questions that will lead to open discussions of your client’s needs, then follow up!  Those issues might lead you to discover areas where he or she needs help but was not aware that you were the one who could provide guidance or support with it.

Abraham Schneier, CPA, Senior Technical Manager, American Institute of CPAs. Abe is responsible for managing the products and services that the tax division provides to its members, including electronic communications such as E-Alerts, web-based sessions, the Tax Center website and the annual production of the AICPA Practice Guides and Checklists. Abe also analyzes IRS guidance and pronouncements on legislative changes to communicate issues of importance to AICPA members. 

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