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Health care knowledge is a must for advisers

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About three-quarters of adults older than 50 say that one of their major fears for retirement is that their health care costs will spiral out of control, according to an October survey by Nationwide Mutual Insurance.

Yet, less than half, or 43%, said that they have discussed their concerns with an adviser.

The survey results suggest that there is a tremendous opportunity for advisers to serve the unmet needs of clients in the health care area.

Of course, it is difficult for advisers to know exactly what to do because of political uncertainties.

“The biggest fear is the fear of the unknown of our health care system,” says Carolyn McClanahan, a CFP who is a former emergency room doctor.

But political question marks shouldn’t stop advisers from tackling health care issues head on.

Given all the variables that are beyond an individual’s control, it is especially important for advisers to fully discuss the factors that clients can control, says McClanahan, director of financial planning at Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida.

These include taking steps to preserve their health, exploring options open to them and understanding their own medical preferences so that they can save appropriately.

“For example, if you know you will want the ‘best of the best’ care, it is important to plan for larger outlays," McClanahan says.

Advisers need to understand the deep impact that health care has on every aspect of a client’s life, and that means that they must know how to talk about health care issues.

"Advisers need to become comfortable asking one basic question: ‘What do you do to take care of your health?'" McClanahan says. “This lets clients know you are open to health care discussions, and they will tell you most of what you need to know.”

The Nationwide Mutual Insurance survey bears McClanahan out.

Seventy-five percent of clients who have discussed retirement with an adviser said that it is very important that their advisers discuss health care costs, significantly higher than the 53% who said the same thing in 2015.

But discussing health care issues doesn’t mean that an adviser must have all the answers right out of the gate.

“You need to start to become a student of these issues,” says Lisa Kirchenbauer, a CFP and the president of Omega Wealth Management in Arlington, Virginia.

Still, most advisers won’t be able to become experts themselves.

“I think most of us have so many other topic areas we’re responsible for that you just can’t do it,” Kirchenbauer says. “We need to do enough to see the red flags coming so that we stop and check to investigate whether there’s anything that we can do differently.”

Most advisers will inevitably have to consult others, at times outsourcing advice to make sure that clients get what they need.

“And if you need experts, you’re going to have to pay for it, but it’s well worth it to make the right decision," Kirchenbauer says.

Paul Hechinger is a contributing writer to Financial Planning and On Wall Street.

This story is part of a 30-30 series on strategies to boost your practice.

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