As a young man, I was a crewmember of a 747 that crashed on takeoff in Kenya. The airline's emergency planning helped me keep cool, think rationally and help save the lives of 90 of the 149 passengers.Today, as principal of a financial advisory firm in Irvine, Calif., I regularly see people approach retirement planning like an airline flight, hoping the unthinkable won't happen. But while the chances of a crash are remote, the financial markets are considerably less predictable. Few are prepared for the transition from earnings income to portfolio income.

I urge clients to ponder the unthinkable. What happens to their portfolio if there's a severe or prolonged market downturn? Will they have to change their lifestyle? Will they have to delay or forego retirement?

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