There are, as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pointed out, known unknowns. There are also, Rumsfeld added, the unknown unknowns. Had Rumsfeld been weighing in on the nature of planning for healthcare expenses in the 21st century, rather than the instability of the situation in Iraq, he may well have been tempted to add a third category expressly designed to address the sheer frustration encountered by financial advisors struggling to help their clients plan for the unplannable.

"One guarantee that I can plan against is that all of my clients are going to die-and so am I-one day down the road," says Walter Pardo, founder of Wealth Financial Partners, an independently owned wealth management firm in Short Hills, N.J., that offers securities through First Allied Securities. "Unless you're a vampire, that's a certainty. The only other near-certainty is that you can't know exactly when or how, and that on its own complicates the planning challenge tremendously."

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