15 Questions You Should Be Asking Your Money Advisors Each Year

By Allison Kvikstad

As a private wealth advisor on Ellevest’s Private Wealth Management team, I love this time of year. There’s just something about the turn of the calendar that gives the air a clean-slate feeling. It’s also one of the times of year when I check in with my clients to help them make sure their finances are still on track for their goals.

15 Questions You Should Be Asking Your Money Advisors Each Year

But I’m not the only one you should be talking to. Just like you (hopefully) go see your various doctors for annual wellness exams, the end of the year is a great time to have a check-in with your whole team of advisors. Here are some key questions to bring with you.

6 questions to ask your financial advisor

  1. Is my investment strategy still aligned with my goals? Have a conversation about your current and future life and financial goals — especially if they’ve changed lately. Have you recently bought or sold a home, had a change in your retirement plans, or perhaps had a new addition. It’s good to have a range of goals; you just want your investment strategy to take all those goals into consideration.

  2. Is my investment portfolio properly allocated? This one’s especially important if you have assets at different financial institutions, which can make rebalancing tricky — you don’t want to accidentally find yourself too concentrated in any one asset class or individual investment. Do you have more than 10% of your net worth in a single stock position? Are you holding too much cash? Ideally, you’re taking an annual inventory of all of your investments across retirement and non-retirement accounts: your 401(k)s, IRAs, taxable accounts, real estate, and direct investments in alternatives.

  3. What is my money doing for the world? While you’re on the subject of your goals, ask your advisor to help you align your investments with your values, if you haven’t already. For example, maybe you’re a sustainability advocate and don’t want to invest in big oil. Or maybe you want to put more of your investment portfolio in an industry or cause you care about — that’s something your advisor can help with. (We here at Ellevest have a particular love for impact investing.)

  4. Do I have any life milestones coming up that will impact my investments? For example, if you’ve got a new child, niece, nephew, or grandchild coming, it might be a good time to open a 529 plan. Or maybe your child or grandchild has reached the age at which they take control of an UTMA/UGMA custodial account you created for them. Or maybe you’ve turned 50, and you can start making catch-up contributions into tax-advantaged retirement plans. (And if you’ve turned 72½, you’ll probably have to start taking required minimum distributions from those retirement plans.)

  5. How do you expect my investments to affect my taxes this year? Capital gains and losses can have a big effect on your tax bill. Whether they help or hurt, it’s good to know what’s coming. Depending on your situation, it could make sense to actively harvest (aka: sell) any securities at a loss. Your advisor can let you know if that’s true for you.

  6. How much am I paying in fees? Hold your advisor accountable! Ask about advisory fees, fund fees (aka: expense ratios), and advisor loads or commissions. This way you’ll have a better sense of whether they’re earning their fee.

5 questions to ask your accountant

  1. How will the proposed tax changes affect me? For example, it might not make sense to diversify out of a concentrated stock position as quickly if it means you’d realize more capital gains this year than next year. Your accountant can help you figure out the best way to pace out that diversification. If you’ve had income changes, it might also make sense to ask for your accountant’s recommendations about IRA Roth conversions and things like deferred compensation.

  2. Am I making the most of my charitable deductions? See if your accountant can help you be more strategic with your giving and charitable contributions for tax purposes. People often give cash to causes throughout the year, but depending on your situation, it might make more sense to give securities with embedded gains (instead of cash) and establish a formalized giving plan.

  3. Are there any tax reasons to make changes to my investment portfolio? For example, most bonds generate income that’s taxable. It might save you money if you were to have tax-inefficient investments held in a tax-deferred account, like an IRA.

  4. What’s the best way to reduce taxes tied to employer stock options? Shares like this (RSUs, ISO, non-qualified) can often have big tax consequences, and certain strategies might need you to act before the end of the year. Bring your accountant up to speed on your vesting schedule and ask for their help (where possible) to reduce your overall tax liability.

  5. Do you do forensic accounting? If so, they might be in a unique position to spot red flags for shady stuff, like if your investments are being traded too frequently so that the broker can earn more in commissions (that’s illegal, btw). If they can, it's worth asking your accountant to take a look.

4 questions to ask your estate attorney

  1. Are my will, health care directive, and power of attorney documents up to date? Ask your estate attorney for help in deciding who should manage your affairs if and when you can’t anymore. This is to make things easier on your loved ones — the right person in the right role can make a big difference. 35% of American adults say they’ve personally experienced family conflict, or know someone who has, because they didn’t have an estate plan or will in place.

  2. Are all my beneficiaries up to date? Should something happen to you, it’ll also be easier on your loved ones if all your bank and investment accounts list the right person as a beneficiary. Also ask if your accounts should include a transfer on death (TOD) or payable on death (POD) designation.

  3. Should I be making any changes because of recent life events? New children or grandchildren, the death of a loved one, a new inheritance, and other changes that affect the people in your life and the amount of money in your estate can all affect your estate plan. Discuss who should be named as trustees, successor trustees, executors, beneficiaries, and agents of your accounts and entities. (One thing to call out specifically: divorce. Stories like this one show why an estate attorney can be especially valuable — being thorough is key.)

  4. Should I title any of my assets into a trust? Ask your estate attorney for help understanding the probate process, and see if they recommend putting your assets into a trust instead. (Here’s some more info on what might go into that decision.)

Making changes to a financial or estate plan might require the help of more than one advisor. Take the example of giving gifts to heirs. The lifetime gift exclusion may change in the future and has the potential to make a big difference when it comes to taxes. So having a team of advisors help navigate that complexity might be really helpful. First, a financial planner can give advice on whether giving money to heirs fits with a financial plan. Then an accountant can give advice on the best way to give those gifts. After that, an estate attorney can give advice on whether an existing estate plan needs to be adjusted.

Ideally, your advisors should be working together to keep things running smoothly, but if that’s not happening, you might consider asking if that’s something they do at their firm. (And if not? Hmmm.)

These questions are a good starting place — having a list of talking points can help you feel more prepared going in and more informed coming out. Let us know how the checkup goes.

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Allison Kvikstad

Allison joined Ellevest from Wells Fargo’s Wealth Management Group, where she served as SVP, Senior Investment Strategist. Today, she’s a financial advisor on Ellevest’s Private Wealth Management team, working with clients to help them develop personalized long-term investment plans that align with their goals and values.