Many articles portray baby boomers as babes in the wood, or even idiots, where retirement planning is concerned.

Again and again, the stories tell how boomers hold wall-to-wall mortgages, don’t save, and are relying on Social Security for retirement income and Medicare for long term care funding.

Now comes a somewhat more positive picture from the 2006 Lincoln Long Life Survey.

Conducted for Lincoln Retirement Institute, Philadelphia, by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, Princeton, N.J, the survey sampled 1,004 boomers aged 42-60 who have $75,000+ in annual household income.

It shows that such boomers are not as much in la-la-land concerning retirement as the boomer stereotype might suggest. However, it also makes clear that boomers aren’t fully up to speed on retirement realities either. How to advise these more enlightened but not yet up-to-speed boomers is the subject here.

On the positive side, the survey found these boomers realize they must rely on personal savings to fund their retirement, says Jon A. Boscia, chairman and CEO of Lincoln Financial Group, which created the Institute.

Also, “84% feel prepared for the future in terms of having enough financial resources to be able to retire on their own terms,” he says.

The chart shows other areas where the boomers displayed retirement awareness and preparation.

Still, several other findings suggest that these more affluent boomers do not yet know what to do about what they know.

The boomers are “just scratching the surface,” contends Harry Horn, a financial planner with Lincoln Financial Advisors in Baltimore, Md.

In a sense, boomers “don’t know what they don’t know,” he continues.

For instance, 46% said they are counting on equity in their homes or investment properties to help fund their retirements. Among 40-year-olds, 50% plan to rely mainly on their primary residence for this.

Boomers do see that home equity is a valuable part of the financial plan, Horn allows, but many have misconceptions about their ability to use the equity to enhance retirement lifestyle.

To illustrate, he relates how some boomers come to his office feeling “very proud” that their home equity is about $750,000. “They think they will be able to turn this into a stream of income.” Then, he says, “I explain it’s not that simple. I explain that the money they get from downsizing to a smaller home or condo comes at a cost.” This includes the cost of buying the new home and selling the old one, moving, setting up new services, buying new furnishings and so on.

Many times, after factoring in all costs, the clients haven’t released enough money to enhance their lives, he says. Furthermore, they must now live in smaller quarters with less privacy and no back yard.

Boomers need to work with financial advisors to not only to ask the right questions about home equity, but also get the right answers, Horn concludes.

Another survey finding uncovered a stumbling block in this area, however.

As shown in the chart, 75% of boomers did say they will consult with an advisor before they retire. However, only 5% of those who have already retired say they are open to the idea of getting professional help with financial decisions for their remaining retirement years.

“There’s a disconnect there,” says Horn. “I think they don’t understand what advisors do. They (boomers) need ongoing maintenance (in their financial plan), not a one-shot deal.”

Advisors need to educate boomer clients about this, he says. “We need to explain that planning is an ongoing process. It deals with short and long-term issues and circumstances that change. It’s continuous.”

David Kittredge, the director of the Lincoln Retirement Institute, agrees.

“Advisors need to be marketing themselves so that boomers understand what it is they get when they see an advisor,” he says. This knowledge will help deter them from deciding not to see an advisor after they retire, he predicts.

There is a lot of risk and opportunity involved in this education, Kittredge indicates.

Over $1 trillion will be leaving qualified plans and looking for a new home when boomers retire, he explains. The risk to the industry would be loss of this business, and the opportunity would be for advisors to make their practice “a destination” for this money.

Boomers face risk, too, if they stop seeing an advisor after they retire, Kittredge says. Boomers will have a lot of money at risk, and they will need to be sure that whoever is managing this money is doing it in a way that best helps the boomer, he says. Advisors should be pointing this out to their clients.

Some other areas that advisors need to work on with boomers include:

Retiring before age 65. The survey found that 58% expect to retire before age 65, a goal the Institute says is at odds with the popular notion that boomers will need to work longer to fund their lengthy retirements.

This is despite the fact that 55% of those who expect to retire early or who are already retired said they are worried that Social Security benefits won’t last.

This expectation reminds Horn of the 1990s, when many people expected to earn 15% a year on investments and retire at 58. “Then, when the stock market crashed in the early 2000s, people were talking about working forever,” he laughs.

Now that the economy is better, the talk is back to retiring before age 65.

Advisors can respond to these shifting views by reviewing economic realities with the boomer, he suggests.

For instance, point out how people now get economic information very rapidly today. “It can be very confusing, (to the point that) people don’t know what to do,” Alternatively, people may learn about a new development and interpolate that for 30 years and make decisions accordingly. “But drawing long term conclusions based on short-term information doesn’t work.”

Advisors need to guide boomers to do actual planning and to set appropriate expectations, he concludes. “Maybe that is the most important thing we do.”

Kittredge points out that Lincoln’s survey of people in their 60s, conducted in 2005, shows that some people age 60+ do indeed work beyond 65. They do this “because they want to or because they have to,” he says.

But for boomers who did not save enough, working longer than 65 “will be required,” he predicts.

Advisors can help boomers get a more realistic picture of their situation by running the numbers with the client, he says.

Even for boomers who have been saving for a long time–being what Lincoln calls “marathon” savers–the projections can be shocking, says Kittredge.

Planning for long term care costs. The survey found 66% of boomers do not have LTC insurance and that 61% of the non-LTC group has not considered purchasing it. Yet 79% said they feel financially prepared to deal with becoming seriously ill or disabled in the next 10 years.

It may be that many boomers don’t know the price tag for certain things in retirement, like LTC, observes Kittredge. They know people are living longer, as shown in the chart. But they aren’t purchasing the product that would transfer the risk of LTC costs to an insurance company, he says.

He suggests many reasons for this–e.g., the way LTC policies are designed, a lack of education on what to do about LTC, and no direct experience with seeing a loved one go through an LTC event. The widely held belief that spending goes down once a person retires may affect this too, he says.

Advisors should show such boomers what the costs are, and how a LTC policy can provide protection, says James E. Summers, president of Senior Market Sales Inc., Omaha, Neb.

Also show how the LTC policy can protect the ability of the boomer’s 401(k) to provide a monthly income, he suggests.

Setting the planned retirement date. The survey found that 23% of boomers have delayed their planned retirement by a year or longer, due to the financial strain of supporting family members (an adult child or aging parent).

Advisors who hear such comments should ask the boomer, “What can one year do for you?” advises Summers.

“You need to run the numbers and deal with the facts.” If the boomer is, say, age 55, it might be that the boomer will need to work 5 or 10 years longer than expected to make up for the costs, he says.

It is not enough to give the boomer some data and facts, Summers adds. “Many are aware of the problem. What the advisor needs to do is to work with the boomer to change the behavior.”

Also learn details of the client’s situation, Summers says. Knowing whether 1 or 2 lives are involved makes a difference, he says. So too does knowing whether the client is married, widowed, divorced or remarried, and whether there are children at home or not. This can help determine how care might be delivered–what actually to plan for.

Horn adds that it helps to talk with the boomer about the increased cost of delaying the decision to buy LTC. Also remind the client that at a future time, “you may be uninsurable.”

Sometimes these approaches are effective, and other times not, Horn says.

Intergenerational issues. The survey shows that 74% of boomers are providing financial support to an adult child or aging parent, and 23% provide support to both child and parent. Yet 55% who lack a formal retirement savings vehicle feel this extended family responsibility has interfered with setting aside money for retirement.

Horn believes advisors can have significant impact on this situation. Address the real issues the sandwiched boomers are facing, he suggests–”for instance, how to get the adult children off the boomers’ auto policy…or how/where to find suitable living arrangements.”

His office sometimes has “candid discussions” with clients about this. “We also look at the budget and decide we need to cut some things.”

Most respond well, Horn says. Still, the issues are often emotional, and may stir up conflicts between, say, husband and wife. So, to some degree, the advisor may need to act as a mediator.

In sum, advisors need to impress upon boomers that “at every stage of life, you need to be doing financial planning, even in your 70s and 80s,” says Summers. The longer boomers live, the more they will need to stretch their dollars, he says. “And, the more they plan, the more they will be able to do just that.”