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Tips for Choosing a Financial Planner

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Handling your finances while also handling a cancer diagnosis can be challenging. Some patients find it helpful to work with a professional financial planner. This person can look at your household income and assets, routine expenses, and new cancer-related expenses and help you come up with a plan for the next several months and beyond. A planner can give good advice about creating a budget that takes treatment costs into account. It’s often tempting to cash in a retirement account or life insurance policy to free up cash, but this might not be the best move for your long-term financial situation.

You will need to do some research to find a financial planner, and eventually you’ll have to assemble your financial records and other information to hand over to this person. If this is more than you can take on right now, get a family member or close friend to help.

If you’re concerned about affording a financial planner, see if your care team or social worker can recommend a someone who provides pro bono (free) or reduced-fee services for people with cancer. For example, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston has forged a partnership with the Financial Planning Association of Massachusetts to connect patients with volunteer financial planners. Your state or local financial planning association might be able to connect you with pro bono services. The Foundation for Financial Planning also may be able to help. The Foundation has launched the “Pro Bono for Cancer” Campaign to raise funds to support free financial planning services for people with cancer.

If cost isn’t a major concern, you can search for a Certified Financial Planner™ in your area through the Financial Planning Association. There are other organizations with searchable databases as well, such as the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors and the Society of Financial Service Professionals. In addition to finding a professional who is certified, you’ll want to know that he or she has experience helping people deal with the unique financial challenges that serious illness brings.

As you search for planners in your area, ask around for recommendations. Talk to the social worker or other patient support staff at your hospital; to colleagues, friends, or relatives; or other people who’ve faced cancer. If you already work with a lawyer or accountant, see if they can recommend any names. Approach this in the same way that you might approach finding a plumber, car mechanic, or real estate agent: Use your social networks and pay attention to any names that come up repeatedly.

Once you have a few candidates, you or your support person can research each person. Ask about their education, professional credentials, licenses, experience, and whether they belong to professional groups or associations. Ask about the clients they’ve served and whether they have worked with people facing chronic illnesses such as cancer. This may be available through their website or by calling the office for a packet of information.

After that, you can schedule an introductory meeting, which is your opportunity to ask questions and make sure this is the right fit. (You’ll want to schedule this around your treatments, of course, at a time when you’re feeling up to it.) Some topics to ask about include:

  • How the financial planner charges his or her fees — flat fee, by the hour, as a percentage of the assets he or she will manage for you. Does he or she receive commissions from selling you certain financial products?
  • Any past experiences with clients who have cancer or other serious illnesses. How is advising such clients different from other clients?
  • How familiar he or she is with financial areas that are likely to be of concern to you, such as medical coverage, life insurance, disability benefits, and employment.
  • What information he/she needs from you and how often you will meet.
  • What kinds of advice you can expect to receive — will this be in person or in writing?
  • References from other clients, especially those facing major health issues.

Before getting started, you may wish to read How to Find a Financial Professional Sensitive to Cancer Issues: Financial Guidance for Cancer Survivors and Their Families (PDF), a booklet produced by the American Cancer Society and the National Endowment for Financial Education. It reviews key questions to ask and issues to think about as you search for a financial planner who meets your needs.

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