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A Road Map: Choosing Advisors To Help Your Family With Governance and Family Dynamics

By Jane N. Abitanta, Patricia M. Angus, and Fredda Herz Brown – December 7, 2006

General Tips for Your Selection Process

1.  Consider this a learning experience having a number of firms and/or individuals to choose from will help your family continue to focus your requirements.

2. Clearly define the family’s criteria for advisor selection and the process. Make sure to incorporate key family members in your process.

3. Use one questionnaire or “request for information” for all candidates. It will help to compare firms and/or individuals on a consistent basis and will help to eliminate candidates who do not suit your family’s purposes.

4. Interview your finalists based on your questionnaire. Interview your finalists using the same representatives of your family if possible and using a rating system in order to most efficiently evaluate each candidate relative to the others.

5. Ask for and check references of your finalist. Use a standard set of questions for each reference and use the same person to do each reference check if possible (to minimize interviewer bias). Do not notify other finalists of your selection until you complete your reference checks and are satisfied. (You may need to opt for your “runner-up” choice and it is not necessary that they know their ranking.)

Determine Your Family’s Criteria for Selection of an Advisor

  • What is our purpose in hiring an advisor? Can one person do all that we need?
  • What is the task our family is looking to accomplish? Set objectives.
  • Are we looking to accomplish a specific project? Define that project.
  • Are we looking to establish a long-term relationship?
  • What kind of professional is likely to be able to help us? What kinds of competencies should they have?
  • What personal qualities will serve our family well? Think about “fit.”
  • Who have we used in the past? What worked and did not work in that advisor relationship?
  • Write down your criteria and get your key participants to agree to it.
  • Prioritize your criteria. What compromises are we willing to make?

Structuring Your Interview

Things to keep in mind during the interview:

  • Observe the way in which the interviewee asks questions, the types of questions they ask, my degree of comfort when I am asked questions, how the interviewee is responding to me. ls the focus about them and how smart they are? Or are they focused on me and my family my needs and objectives?
  • Do I like him/her? Can my family work with him/her? Arc our values in alignment?
  • Does s/he listen? Will they be responsive to our concerns?
  • Am I comfortable with how questions are answered? Do I believe what s/he is saying?
  • Do I have confidence in the experience and ability of the individual who will work with my family? Can s/he help us?

Interview Questions for Advisors

  • What is the process for building a relationship with our family and interacting about our situation with your firm’s principals?
  • How do you approach the issues that are relevant to our family (e.g., complex trust structures, governance, family communication, strategic planning)?
  • Who will be directly involved with our family and what will their roles be?
  • How will you work with our other advisors?
  • Do you have a process for engaging family clients around governance and/or family dynamics issues? Where would you start with our family?
  • How many family situations have you worked on that are similar to ours?
  • How would you compare your approach and services to other professionals, including those in other disciplines (e.g., law, psychology, business)?
  • Give some examples of families that you have helped on governance issues? On family dynamics?
  • What do you think the most difficult challenge will be in dealing with a family like ours?

Request for Information Questions for Advisors Nature of Business

  • Please list and describe your services.
  • How much of your total firm revenues are generated by relationships with families like ours?
  • Who is your typical client? What is the nature of their engagement of your services?
  • How long is your typical relationship with a family?
  • How do you evaluate your work with a client? What constitutes success? Give an example of a failure.

History, Background, Firm Culture

  • What is your professional background (e.g., law, psychology, business, consulting)?
  • In what capacity do you work with clients (e.g., as a consultant or as a licensed professional in your area of training)?
  • Please provide a brief description of the history of your company and its ownership. Has there been any recent change in ownership? Do you anticipate any change in ownership? Have there been any major structural changes in the last five years?
  • Please describe the structure of your company and how you interact internally and with your client.
  • How do you avoid conflicts of interest?
  • What are all of the sources of revenue to your firm?
  • What types of insurance does the firm have to protect clients and what levels of coverage does it hold?
  • Please describe all past judgements against the firm or your professionals. Please describe the nature of any ongoing litigation.


  • Please list the number of professionals at your firm. Please list any key turnover in the past five years.
  • Please provide backgrounds on all principals. Please indicate the number of years of experience and the number of years with your firm.
  • For each of your professionals, please describe all specialized training in working with families and family systems.
  • Please describe the roles and responsibilities of each professional at your firm.
  • How many clients do you work with at any given time? How do you determine who works with which families?
  • How are you and your colleagues compensated?


  • How are fees determined?
  • What is the scope of the work? What will it cost?
  • Will you negotiate fees?


Things to observe about the reference request process:

  • How do they handle our requests for references?
  • How do they determine a reference for us? Did that reference family have similar issues to ours? How long did they work with the advisor and on what kinds of issues?