Death and taxes may be inevitable, but taxes can be modified with some careful planning before retirement, says one expert.

Financial advisor Danny Harlow believes one of the most important factors for retirees to consider when they start taking withdrawals is how to limit the cut taxes take from their income.

Harlow is president of NW Tax & Wealth Advisory Group Inc. in Vancouver, Wash., and Clackamas, Ore. He has spent his career trying to limit his clients’ exposure to taxes, particularly during their retirement years.

“The lack of planning for taxes in retirement becomes a real shock when the tax bill comes due,” Harlow says. But there are protective measures that can be taken, he adds.

Harlow says Roth IRAs should be used whenever possible. Unlike qualified savings plans such as 401(k)s and traditional IRAs, the money put into a Roth IRA is taxed when it goes in. And Harlow believes the tax rate is lower now than it is going to be in the future.

Upper- and middle-class Americans are going to have to pay for the federal deficit, which will mean higher taxes for both groups, says Harlow.

“There are going to be changes in order for the federal government to raise money – maybe it will be limiting the tax deduction for mortgages or for charitable contributions. That amounts to a tax increase,” he says. President Obama already has signed into law a tax increase for upper income people.

Another tactic is to use life insurance to leave tax-free money to heirs. If that is the goal, even elderly people can benefit from buying life insurance. Harlow urges retirees to take advantage of the free seminars that are available to learn more about life insurance.

Oil and gas investments may be attractive for retirees because those industries get special tax privileges, he says, although care must be taken because they often are illiquid.

People approaching retirement should pay off as much of their debt as possible so there is less immediate need for the money coming in, Harlow advises.

If some of the money is not needed, a charitable income trust can be established, he said. The designated charity pays the beneficiaries while they are alive and then the charity gets the rest of the money after the person dies.

“Being in retirement is different from getting there,” Harlow says. “When you are in the red zone, which is within five years of retirement, it is time to take a step back and look at the whole gamut of products that are out there. Advisors need to have the conversation about preservation of assets with any of their clients who are over 60 years of age.”