2. Know someone who can give you a second opinion — a responsible adult child, a financial adviser or a capable friend you've known for a long time.
I hear a lot of stories. For example, Princeton, N.J., planner Martha Ferrari had a client whose children were urging her to deed them her home. Their objective was "Medicaid planning" — making her poor enough to quality for government aid. After getting professional advice, she updated her power of attorney so that her kids couldn't take the home out from under her.
Chicago planner Andrew Feldman had a client who asked a bank how to get higher interest on her savings. Instead, the bank sold her an expensive mutual fund that owned stocks. Planner Cheryl Sherrard of Charlotte, N.C., says she listens carefully when a client gets a "new friend" in a retirement community who wants to advise her on investments.
3. Read the fine print before buying a variable annuity with a nursing home waiver. In theory, you can access your money penalty-free if you need long-term care. But that didn't work for a client of planner Bill Houck of Westwood, N.J. The client's father has Alzheimer's, and she tried to exercise the waiver on the annuity he owned. The insurance company turned her down. It said it waived fees only for people in nursing homes, and her father was in an Alzheimer's "assisted living facility." Total rip-off.
4. Give your adviser a backdoor way of protecting you. Like most planners, Vivian Honeycutt of Chesapeake, Va., asks her clients for an "incapacity letter." It allows her to alert a designated person if she notices a mental decline or uncharacteristic spending.
Advisers use this power sparingly. "One of my clients called me to ask if he paid for a cruise with his girlfriend, would that trigger a call to his daughter?" Honeycutt says, laughing. "They're both 85 and in full possession of their faculties." He wrote the check and they sailed away.
Also of interest: Financial plan beats panic every time.
Jane Bryant Quinn is a personal finance expert and author of Making the Most of Your Money NOW. She writes regularly for the Bulletin.