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Andrew Farah column: How to assemble a strong team

10:01 PM, Mar. 29, 2013  |  Comments
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As you establish financial goals, you may wonder how to build the ideal financial planning team to help achieve them. As is true with many financial questions, there are only flexible answers, because your goals and needs are specific to you.

Nevertheless, you must begin somewhere. So first, perhaps, make sure you have in mind a clear picture of your current finances and where you'd like to be in different future timeframes.

If you have multiple goals - and most investors do - financial planning is the process that may help you reach them by first evaluating your financial universe. The best financial plans are tailored to your needs and available resources. They don't overreach or set you up for failure.

Among the chief benefits of a plan is that it gives you a system for balancing priorities. You may have multiple financial goals - saving for retirement while also saving for your child's higher education, for example. Your plan can show you how those goals are related - your desire to save for a college education could affect your retirement savings - allowing you to choose specific strategies and the means of implementing them as you prioritize goals and set out to achieve them.

A common question is how many professionals should be on your financial team. In assessing your needs, first consider the complexity of your goals. Are you saving and investing just for retirement, or should you also be saving and investing simultaneously for other long-term objectives? Have you established an emergency fund to dip into in case of an employment or household or medical emergency? Are you concerned specifically about providing for your family in the event of your death? Is minimizing income or estate taxes among your goals?

You may wish to involve several professionals in the process. It is common to assemble a team of a financial adviser, an accountant or tax attorney, an estate planning attorney and an insurance professional. As you have one set of goals, you should have one adviser in each of these areas. But those advisers should ALL agree on one plan. Each has a useful specialty:

? Your financial adviser plays a central role, offering specific advice about investment options, asset allocation and portfolio management, and also designing your plan and perhaps coordinating the activities of complementary professionals. You probably will meet with this adviser most often.

? Accountants or tax attorneys specialize in advice on federal, state and local tax matters as well as distribution strategies at retirement.

? Estate attorneys help develop your estate plan and give advice on managing titles, beneficiary designations and transferring assets.

? Insurance professionals evaluate your insurance needs or risk issues and make appropriate policy recommendations.

There are self-centered people who think everything in life revolves around them - but in this case, you really are the most important member of your financial planning team. The experts and specialists play significant roles, but they can act only on your decisions. It's the team members' collective job to come up with your comprehensive financial plan and to provide you with unbiased information and recommendations based on your interests and goals.

It is vital to realize that no matter how skillfully designed, your financial plan is just that - a plan, not a panacea. As time goes on, your goals are likely to change; your time horizon certainly will. You may get married or divorced, have children, develop special health care needs, or unexpectedly receive an inheritance. Since no one can predict the direction of future financial markets, tax laws, or economic or legal developments, your portfolio itself will almost certainly need adjustments over the years.

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