Dear Dr. Don,
I am trying to find reliable financial planning advice, but am unsure of the differences among the various types of advisers. Which would be the best choice for a "high net worth" recently widowed professional woman with young children?
-- K.S. Selects
I used to think of a financial planner as the quarterback of a team of professionals, calling the plays. But now that very few quarterbacks call their own plays, I think of the planner as the coxswain of a racing shell -- calling the strokes, steering the boat and making sure all the crew members are pulling together toward a common goal.
The team of professionals could include an attorney, accountant, investment professional, insurance agent, trust officer and financial planner. It's possible for these professionals to wear more than one hat if it doesn't have a negative impact on the ability of the group to work together.
The investment adviser doesn't have to be the financial planner. Comprehensive financial planning is a lot more than investment advice. It can include budgeting, taxes, insurance, retirement, college savings and estate planning. A holistic approach to financial planning considers the client's life goals in the plan.
You want the planner to be a fiduciary, which means he or she is required to place the client's interests first. While regulatory reform in the financial services industry is working toward requiring more of its professionals to be held to a fiduciary standard, it's best to ask the planner if he or she is acting as a fiduciary. Registered investment advisers -- who are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission -- are held to a fiduciary standard.
I'd suggest using a fee-only financial planner. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors is a good place to start. Interview a few, using the CFP Board of Standards guide "How to Choose a Planner." Since you can't tell the players without a scorecard, I also recommend reading its Web page "Financial Advisers Who May Work With You."
While you describe yourself as being a high-net-worth client, I still recommend reading the Bankrate feature "Financial Planners: Not just for millionaires anymore."
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