Assess your employer's benefits
Take stock of whatever severance package an employer may put on the table. If you have leverage to negotiate better terms, use it. In particular, push for the best health insurance compromise you can.
"How long will your old employer give you on their health care plan?" Courser asks. "That's probably the biggest single expense they will face. If someone wants to work, they can always find something to do, even if it's going down to the temporary employment guy for $9.97 an hour. But the health care issue is really important. When you are laid off at 57, even if you do COBRA for a couple of years, eventually you have to find health insurance. And you may already have a few things going on in your life that would make it a little more difficult to get health care coverage."
Courser advises seeking out an adviser who specializes in health insurance to help find a plan that finds your needed sweet spot between coverage and cost.
Draw from your IRA
The IRS allows what is called a 72(t) exception for IRAs. While the government typically requires that funds pulled out before age 59.5 are subject to regular income tax on the withdrawal and a 10% penalty tax, under 72(t) guidelines the penalty can be avoided at any age.
"In essence, it says you can avoid the penalty by taking equal payments over a minimum of five years or until you become 59.5, whichever is longer," Courser says. "You get a 56-year-old guy who gets deep-sixed and that's an approach you have to take a look at. He may not do it, because it depends on his other assets, but if the biggest asset is his IRA it may be necessary to look at that and see if we can draw some income off it. It will still be taxable at normal rates, but at least you won't be penalized."
While draining your 401(k) plan is ill-advised, tapping into your IRA may be a solid strategy.
Revise your allocations
"They have to put together an allocation plan that is going to give them some kind of income," Courser says of forced retirees. "They have nontax-deferred assets they can use, but you need to generate some income. It really becomes critical to develop a plan that will give them the income they need until they can tap into the Social Security system and take some of the pressure off their retirement assets."
Don't wait to be pushed into an early retirement before starting to plan for that scenario.
Zabiegala works with his clients to create various "buckets" of assets to ensure they have a dynamic retirement plan that can handle whatever curve balls are thrown their way.
"Don't just put all of your money into a long-term bucket," he says. Short-term, medium-term and emergency savings and investments can help weather for any storm.
Emergency savings of three to six months are important so that "you are not sweating when the crunch time comes," he says.
For each portfolio, risk levels should be appropriate, with emergency funds safely in cash and longer-term needs relying more on equities for growth until retirement approaches.
Investors need to be realistic about their savings needs, Zabiegala says. When a client says their family history means they will likely die at a younger age, he will persuade them to add a few extra years to their projection to be safe. Don't think you'll live to see 85? Well, assume 90 years just in case.
He also urges caution for those who "dip into their savings like a piggy bank" under the assumption that they can always just go back to work as the well runs dry.
It may sound good on paper, he says, but it assumes that those jobs are out there. You may say you can be happy as a Wal-Mart greeter, but very few can adapt to going from "six figures to $6 an hour." A little bit of frugality now can pay off greatly in the future.
—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.