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Merrill Lynch recently asked its director of enterprise financial planning, Karen Burns, what were the top reasons people turn to a financial advisor. She suggested five major life events that often prompt people to seek advice.

Merrill had already heard an answer to its question from some 20,000 people who responded to a Twitter poll in 2017. These were the top reasons they said they would most likely turn to a financial advisor for help:

  • Buying or selling a home ‒ 36%
  • Thinking about retiring ‒ 36%
  • Becoming a parent ‒ 15%
  • Divorce and remarriage ‒ 13%

“Major life changes like these often make people realize how much they don’t know about the markets and their financial lives — and what’s at stake,” Burns said in a statement. “But it’s not always a good idea to wait until you need expert advice to seek it out.”

Burns said it can be helpful to speak with someone who can help you look beyond your immediate needs to help you build a strong financial future. “When you work with an advisor, you’ll always have someone you can turn to for advice as your life changes and you need to take a fresh look at your finances.”

Following are Burns’ top five reasons why people engage with an advisor, along with some basic questions advisors should be prepared to answer.

1. Starting a family

Question: When should we start saving for college?

The average cost of raising a child for the first 17 years comes to $233,610, not including college tuition or inflation, according to government figures cited by Merrill.

An advisor can address issues such as when to start saving for a child’s college education and how to keep one’s retirement savings on track while providing for a growing family.

2. Buying or selling a home

Question: How much debt can I take on?

Major financial transactions often involve financial retrenchment or important decisions about how best to deploy one’s financial resources. Before house hunting begins, an advisor can offer help to figure out how much debt the buyer can take on, how much money to deploy as a down payment and his or her ability to keep other important financial goals on track.

For sellers, an advisor can be a good source of ideas about using the equity built up in the home to pursue other goals.

3. Divorce or remarriage

Question: How should my investments and other assets be divided?

Both partners in a divorce will have to deal with important financial considerations, on top of attendant emotional issues surrounding the process. Will each one have enough income to support an accustomed lifestyle? How will investments and other assets be divided?

Remarriage is “a joyful occasion, but one that raises questions about how to best combine your financial lives,” she said. A knowledgeable advisor can help the new spouses work through several issues: Do they have an estate plan for the two of them that provides for the financial security of the other if one of them should die? Are there children from a previous marriage either would like to leave an inheritance to? Can life insurance play a role in their planning? How might the marriage affect Social Security benefits?

4. Upon receiving an inheritance or windfall

Question: Should I pay down debt? Invest more? Retire early?

A sudden influx of cash or assets raises immediate questions about what to do with it. An advisor can discuss how much could go to paying down existing debt, and how much to investing for a more secure future. An advisor can also help clients rethink when they may want to retire, Burns said.

5. Approaching retirement

Question: How can I avoid outliving my money?

As retirement longevity continues to increase, it is more important than ever to have expert guidance in preparing financially for that next phase of one’s life. Five or 10 years before retirement, it can be helpful to think about such questions as these: What steps should I consider taking now so that I won’t outlive my money? When should I claim my Social Security benefits? And how will I fund any unanticipated medical costs?