If you want to make sure you’re getting the best retirement investing advice, you’re going to have to remain as vigilant as ever.

The fiduciary rule, an Obama-era regulation that required financial professionals to act in clients’ best interest with retirement accounts, will no longer be enforced by the Labor Department, according to news reports. The decision came after a court invalidated the rule last week, saying the Labor Department had overstepped its authority.

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But while the fiduciary rule appears dead for now, there are steps you can take to ensure that you get investment advice that’s free of conflicts of interest. And there’s a growing market of investment-advice options that put small investors’ interests first.

“Advisers giving best-interest advice increasingly is going to be the model going forward,” says Aron Szapiro, director of policy research at Morningstar, an investment-research company based in Chicago. “This court decision is not going to stop that.” 

What Is a Fiduciary?

Fiduciaries are individuals or groups that are required to look out for your best financial interests.

An adviser adhering to a fiduciary standard would recommend, say, investing in low-cost mutual funds for a fixed fee instead of comparable funds that charge more in commissions. He would have to promise no hidden fees that might surprise you later.

And if he had any conflicts of interest that could sway his judgment about which investment is best for you—say, a six-day, five-night resort vacation in Maui (PDF) he’d get for selling you a particular product—he’d be required to tell you. 

In the past, savers had the option of turning to commission-based advisers who might not be fiduciaries. These advisers are only required to make investments on your behalf that are “suitable” for your needs. That means that while the investments your adviser chooses could be appropriate for your financial goals, you could end up paying more money in commissions and other fees than if you had hired a fiduciary.

The Obama Labor Department estimated that when financial advisers choose investment products that come with high fees and commissions, those investments reduce the returns of retirement savers by an average of 1 percent per year, or about $17 billion annually. 

A Longstanding Fight

To protect retirement savers, the Obama Department of Labor began rolling out its fiduciary rule two years ago. It requires individuals giving advice on retirement accounts such as IRAs to be fiduciaries. The DOL regulates employer-based retirement savings such as pensions and 401(k)s, and has long required that sponsors of those types of plans be fiduciaries. 

Last week a three-judge panel in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans, ruled 2-1 that the DOL overstepped its legal authority when it required IRA advisers to adhere to the same fiduciary standard mandated of pension and 401(k) sponsors.

Critics have maintained that the rule adversely affected the ability of Americans to gain access to retirement information and financial advice. 

“Many companies have already pulled out of this market or reduced their services to middle-class investors as a result of this rule,” says John Berlau, financial policy expert at the conservative-leaning Competitive Enterprise Institute. “The Trump Labor Department should respect this ruling and stay out of an area that Congress never intended it to venture into.”

Consumer advocates have decried the appellate panel’s decision, which overturned several lower-court decisions in the rule’s favor.

“The decision is deeply troubling because it calls into question the DOL’s authority over ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) and its ability to develop rules to safeguard the retirement savings of workers and retirees,” says Pamela Banks, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports.

What to Do to Protect Yourself

In light of the court’s decision, it’s more important than ever to know where your adviser and his or her employer stand on the topic of fiduciary duty.

Some professionals—certified financial planners and registered investment advisers—have been acting as fiduciaries for years. But it’s always wise to ask a prospective adviser—or your current one—for written confirmation that he or she will act as your fiduciary. And if an adviser can’t assure you that he or she is a fiduciary, find one who can. 

If you work with a broker, you may be asked to pay a management fee to make up for the loss of sales commissions. If the requested fee is more than 1 percent of your assets, find another adviser or consider low-cost advice alternatives, such as a computer-based robo-adviser. Robo-adviser services (which are fiduciaries, according to the DOL rule) often offer low-cost investment options for set fees.

Get used to bringing up the term “fiduciary” to your current adviser or any new financial adviser you’re considering. And ask other salient questions as well.

What Comes Next

Observers say the Fiduciary Rule may yet live. Stephen Hall, legal director at Better Markets, an investor-protection organization, suggests that the DOL challenge the Fifth Circuit’s decision. “But if they don’t, we’ll be evaluating all of our options, including possible litigation steps,” he says. 

Alternatively, the investment community and consumer advocates could wait for action by individual states, which regulate the insurance industry, and by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which oversees investment advisers. Having slow-walked its rulemaking for years, the SEC says it will unveil its fiduciary rule sometime this summer.

And in the meantime, consumers have reaped collateral benefits from the rule. In response to the rule and to client demand for low-cost investments, numerous large investment companies, including Fidelity Investments, Charles Schwab, and BlackRock, have reduced fees for retirement investors. 

Szapiro at Morningstar says most investment companies are moving toward a fiduciary standard—including fee-based accounts—because it makes business sense to do so. Bank of America, for instance, recently put out an earnings report (PDF) showing increased revenues and profits for its Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management division, due in part to its replacing commission-based accounts with fee-based accounts.

“I haven’t seen any big financial institutions saying, with this court decision we’re done being fiduciaries,” Szapiro says. “A lot have found there’s a market for this.”

In fact, he says, whenever the fiduciary rule appears in the news, more consumers learn about it and conclude that they want it from their advisers.

“All of these things make ordinary people more aware of it,” he says. “They’re more likely to ask their advisers if they’re working in their best interest.”