In the midst of the Great Recession, when those around her were bemoaning their shrinking portfolios, then-69-year-old Marianne was breathing easy. A single, retired executive who counted on income from her pension and investments to maintain her lifestyle, the Toronto resident had gained peace of mind by seeking the advice of a financial professional. Under his guidance, Marianne learned there was more to planning a secure retirement than just pursuing investment returns.

It's a lesson that Sun Life Financial advisor Brent McKay1 stands behind. "You have to look at the big picture," says the 21-year veteran of the financial services industry and member of the family-run business, McKay Insurance & Financial Services Inc. in Simcoe, Ont. "There are so many moving parts."

You might think that working with a financial professional is all about monitoring how much your investments earn or lose. But that's not the whole story. Working with an advisor can mean protecting your wealth as well as building it.

After all, why aim for investment returns if you squander your gains with reckless spending? Or what if the Canada Revenue Agency steps in and snaps up those gains because you didn't appreciate the tax implications? Or what if a serious illness eats a hole in your savings five years before you planned to retire? And what about planning for the next generation? Every stage of your life requires a financially appropriate approach.

Planning for the unplanned

Planning for your financial future is a whole lot more complicated than simply following a stock or buying a mutual fund. It's about setting personal and financial goals, incorporating those goals into a financial plan, then following the road map to your destination. It's also about "planning for the unplanned," as Sun Life Financial advisor Melanie Adams2 of Adams and Associates Financial Solutions Inc. in Barrie, Ont., puts it.

And not everyone has the inclination, the knowledge or the discipline to do all that for him or herself. That's where professional help can come in.

Marianne, a superb organizer in her business life, recognized early in her career that she needed a professional to organize her financial life. Over the years, her advisor has helped her plan for retirement, mitigate risk by diversifying her holdings, move her savings into a regular income stream to last through her retirement years and get her estate in order.

"Just because you can look "financial planning" up on the Internet doesn't mean you can do it," says Sun Life Financial advisor Brian Burlacoff,3 who joined Burlacoff Financial Services Inc. in Toronto in 1989. "People are lured into it because on the surface it appears easy."

Unlike Marianne, many Canadians are far from confident about their financial future. According to the 2013 Sun Life Unretirement Index, only 27% of Canadians expect to be retired at age 66 and 63% of those working will be doing so out of economic necessity. Some 38% of Canadians surveyed say there is "serious risk" they will outlive their retirement savings.

When should you seek financial advice?

So, how do you know when you are ready to seek advice? It's never too soon, and it's never too late:

Developing a financial roadmap is no easy task, but a professional guide makes it his or her business to see the big picture. Marianne says she's glad she sought professional advice. "Then," she says, "I knew it was being done right."

1Brent McKay,* CFP, ® McKay Insurance & Financial Services Inc. Sun Life Financial advisor
2Melanie Adams,* BA, PFP, Adams and Associates Financial Solutions Inc. Sun Life Financial advisor
3Brian Burlacoff,* M.Acc., MBA, CFP, ® CLU®, CHS, Burlacoff Financial Services Inc. Sun Life Financial advisor

* Mutual funds offered by Sun Life Financial Investment Services (Canada) Inc.
Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada is a member of the Sun Life Financial group of companies.