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How can you avoid big fees for wealth management?

December 13, 2012: 6:30 AM ET

I am a 56-year-old retired widower. I live off my monthly pension with built-in COLAs, but I also work full-time. My net worth is substantial, and the wealth managers I've interviewed have all provided different advice with big fees attached. I just want our investment to grow with as little risk as possible, without paying large fees. Can you give me advice or direction? – Name withheld

Given how careful you've been with your money, it's only natural that you want to expose your nest egg to as little risk as possible. But before you decide how to invest your money, you'll need to be clear on why you're investing. That includes setting clear financial goals, whether that's leaving a lasting charitable legacy, providing for your children or buying a vacation home in Barbados.

To that end, your first step should be to contact an affordable, fee-only financial planner. Scott Hamilton, founder of Austin, Tex.-based Hamilton Financial Planning recommends searching for one through either the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (www.napfa.org) or the Garret Planning Network (www.garretplanningnetwork.com). A reputable planner won't charge you for an initial meeting to discuss your situation and explain how he or she typically works with clients.

You may find that you just need some help coming up with a plan, which may cost a few hundred or a few thousand dollars, depending on the advisor. But once you have that plan, the cheapest approach may be to manage your money yourself — provided you can stick to a long-term strategy and not react to every up and down of the market.

If you're not comfortable handling your own investments, Hamilton suggests you shop around. There are many competitive fee structures offered by financial planners, from those who charge hourly rates to those who charge a fee based on the assets under management—and those fees are often negotiable. "But the most important thing," Hamilton says, "is finding a planner whose investment philosophy lines up with your own."

— Marc Mewshaw

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