Does this sound familiar?

You've learned to trust your instincts. You've learned to trust your judgment.

You value your independence and the accomplishments it has brought. Most things work out best when you do them yourself.

And your experiences trusting others to do things for you are mixed at best.

That sounds like me, and I'll bet it's a familiar tone for many of you.

As consumed as we are by daily professional life, we still want to be in charge of our affairs -- especially our financial affairs. It's just part of our character.

But for some of you, financial topics such as tax laws, insurance policies and investment analysis trigger a reach for the ignore button. You have no appetite for them.

Or, in a valiant self-recognition of character, you musical virtuosos or crackerjack attorneys realize you simply don't possess the skills, interest or bandwidth to manage financial affairs. You gladly throw them over the wall to the experts.

But suppose you've been doing your finances all along. You're doing OK; you have a solid grip, and the bills are getting paid.

It can be hard to let go.

When the do-it-yourself home improvement project requires plumbing work -- which you've never done or don't want to do -- you call in the professionals.

Are there similar boundaries when it comes to your finances?

Click here for the video version of this story from Jennifer Openshaw.

Recognizing when -- and why -- to bring in financial professionals can facilitate decisions, achieve favorable outcomes and keep your family in harmony.

Here are six signs it may be time for a pro:
  • Your answer to most financial questions is: "I would if I had time."

    Pretty obvious, but when financial decisions and planning are always "when I get around to it," that's trouble. The longer things are let go, the more there is to get around to. If you get behind, you miss out on opportunities.
  • You're going through a life change with little to no idea how it will turn out.

    There are no published statistics on what drives most new clients to financial planners, but when asked, they will say in unison: "life change."

    Getting married, having kids, a job change, kids in college, retirement preparation, retirement implementation and the death of a spouse all bring new complexities. When a life-stage change knocks, have someone with you when you open the door.
  • You can't answer the "what if" question.

    What if I (or my spouse) die or become disabled? Most have only a vague idea of how our partners and households will fare if one income goes away. It's important to be prepared not just for when it happens but also for several years down the road -- things such as health care, Medicare eligibility and tax impacts all need attention.
  • You have dependents or heirs from more than one family.

    It's hard enough to plan the future with one family unit, but what about two? Or more? Again, what happens if you die or become disabled -- how do you want your benefits, income and assets to be handled? It gets messy in a hurry if not planned in advance.
  • Your nest egg won't grow.

    You work your butt off, managing to scrape at least a little off the top for retirement savings. But you keep hearing you'll need a million bucks (at least). Your nest egg has been hovering at $120,000 for quite a while. Are you doing everything right -- earning enough, saving enough, investing right?
  • You can't bring yourself to draw from your nest egg.

    Obviously this aims at already-retired folks afraid to touch their savings, lest they run out. A financial adviser can construct a realistic distribution plan.

If any of these describe you, it might be time to invest in some professional advice. But what kind of professional advice?

Most of the situations described above cut across several financial disciplines -- investing, risk management, estate planning and others. They also mandate a careful assessment of your individual situation, goals and family dynamics.

So I suggest an independent fee-only financial planner.

You don't need a producer selling you a financial product -- you want balanced and holistic advice with no product or training biases thrown in. So fee-only financial planners with a CFP, or certified financial planner, designation make the most sense.

Just make sure to interview them to judge if they really can -- or want to -- deal with your situation.

If all goes well, your adviser (and his or her professional network) will become a permanent member of your LifeNet, as explained in my upcoming book The Millionaire Zone. It's nice when help is just a phone call away.

Jennifer Openshaw, a passionate advocate for helping Americans improve their finances and build their personal fortunes, is CEO of The Millionaire Zone and America Online's personal finance editor. In addition to appearing regularly on TV shows such as "Oprah" and "Good Morning America" and on CNN, Openshaw is host of ABC Radio's "Winning Advice" and serves as an adviser to some of America's top corporations. Her new book, "The Millionaire Zone," will hit bookstores in April 2007.

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