In 2005, successful do-it-yourself investor Les Hickok and his wife hired a financial planner to manage the portfolio they'd amassed. Planner Derek Kennedy, founder and president of Kennedy Wealth Management in Knoxville, Tenn., ran a stress-test on the retirement savings of the duo, who were both in their sixties. The goal: to see how their money would last after a Great Depression-type scenario that featured a 23% hit in one year and 21% slide the year after. "At the time, it seemed a little ridiculous to me," Hickok recalls of the exercise.

It paid off three years later when global markets collapsed. Kennedy called the Hickoks to make sure they weren't panicked by the scary headlines.

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