“My accountant disappeared”

This is the time of year when many individuals find out that, for some reason, the person who prepared their financial statements or tax returns in the past is no longer available. Self employed CPAs, accountants, tax preparers change their business circumstances with surprising frequency. Some speculate that they are simply sucked into a black hole. I’ve helped to clients in this situation already this past year. This disappearance can happen for a number of reasons: retirement, death, a physical illness, a mental disorder (depression, for example), relocation, a new job, a non-complete clause in an employment contract. It happens with surprising frequency.

I have a personal “inside line” on how this might happen. In 2006 I was stuck by a truck and had to give up all my clients suddenly. Many of these were lifelong relationships. Because of my head injury I wasn’t thinking straight, didn’t notify them properly and was acting more out of negative emotions and fear. I went back into practice last year (9 years later) but still have not contacted any of these earlier clients. Even now, my attitude toward these older clients has more to do with embarrassment, frustration and other negatives that have to be dealt with under these circumstances.

Ideally, an accountant would have a succession plan for the practice. I’ve given much thought to a succession plan for my own practice (and how I might be involved in other accountants’ practices) but I haven’t make any tangible progress on an agreement even after having approached more than two dozen potential candidates to discuss the topic. I haven’t found any other practitioners interested in a buy/sell agreement, for example. This will continue to be a goal for my practice until I find a solid solution.

I usually ask my clients during a review “What if I were no longer able to continue to …” but they do not seem too concerned with succession and continuity of their accounting. It would be a bigger deal than they realize, especially for those who have not bothered to gain an understanding of their own business record-keeping. Some of my clients, for example, would not know how to locate their physical or online electronic records. For most individuals and small business people the simplest and most effective way to address the issue, I think, is to have considered a clear response to the question: “What if my accountant disappeared?” Include a provision in your business plan or personal financial plan and let others (key employees, spouse, attorney or intended executor) know about your accounting contingency plans.

If you find that your accountant is no longer available this tax season and you can work with an online remote professional, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss how we can work together to pick up the pieces and move forward on a more stable plan for the future.

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