Most advisors are familiar with the frantic client phone call. Ben Barzideh, a wealth advisor at Piershale Financial Group, in Crystal Lake, Ill., recalled a recent example from a woman whose husband had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

"He would need round-the-clock help," Barzideh recounted.

Besides the emotional turmoil, Barzideh's client was concerned about the expense. Her husband had always handled their finances.

The best laid financial plans are designed to incorporate the unexpected, of course, but when expensive and unpredictable medical emergencies strike, they can nonetheless derail a client's portfolio. What can/should advisors do to help?

"The first thing a good advisor does is simply listen and express compassion for what the client is experiencing," said Barzideh. "Bedside manner isn’t just for doctors."

It's important for clients to understand that the advisor has experience dealing with similar difficult situations, he added. The advisor's calm authority lets the client know that it's going to be all right.

This seasoned, controlled approach should also come into play ahead of the tragedy, said Ken Moraif, a senior advisor at Dallas-based Money Matters. "Making decisions when you are NOT emotional is much easier than when you are emotionally involved in a situation," he noted.

It's easier on families, too. "Families get hit the hardest when no one has discussed what to do in health situations," said Moraif. "Having a clear path of what each family member wants and expects of the other family members makes it easier to confront."

Barzideh might agree. "Taking a practical and proactive approach to potential health-care costs can give someone peace of mind and flexibility … Just showing family members that there are funds in place to help alleviate the financial costs can be a breath of fresh air," he said.

To be sure, insurance can help with medical costs. Barzideh frequently recommends long-term care (LTC) policies. "They can be expensive, but they're not unaffordable for most people," he said. "We've seen many cases in which nursing-home expenses [without LTC coverage] completely wiped out a nest egg, and then put other family members in a tough situation, having to care for the individual."

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