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Where to Turn When Life Takes a Turn

Good financial planning buys you time when a life crisis occurs. A job loss or divorce, a disability or the death of a spouse, can be wrenching enough without the addition of money stresses. Having a plan in place lets you follow a set course of action—or rely on advisers you have gotten to know—during the weeks and months when it's toughest to think clearly. Later, your plan can be revised to address realities that may have been impossible to anticipate.

But many of us aren't equipped to protect our money when trouble arises. In a recent survey sponsored by AARP Financial, 40 percent of respondents who have had life crises said they were not prepared financially. When you don't have time to get ready for the worst that can happen, where can you turn?

"To a financial planner" is the ready answer even in an emergency, but be forewarned that any insurance agent or stockbroker can sport the title financial planner, and how financial pros earn their money will undoubtedly affect the advice they give you. For independent counsel, money expert Jonathan D. Pond says it's best to look among members of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, who accept no commissions from product sales. They charge for their services in a variety of ways, including by the hour, by flat fee or annual retainer, or by a percentage of your assets. The first appointment is often free, so meet with several planners to get a firm idea of whom you're comfortable hiring.

The more sources you consult—the more perspective you can get—the better. There's plenty of free information that may be helpful to you on the Web, including:

  • AARP Financial's action plans, which can help you focus on necessary steps to take when various life crises occur: job loss, divorce, disability, or the death of a spouse
  • The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' website called 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy, which provides a wide range of basic information on achieving your financial goals; among the topics covered are coping with job loss and understanding your insurance coverage

And when there's not enough money to pay the bills, much less hire a financial planner, there still are ways to get help:

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