When it comes to protecting personal wealth and business assets, the first thing that comes to many people's minds is insurance. There is no question that insurance can play an important role in asset protection. Not only is it often required by law, by your lender or by your landlord, insurance can be an effective first line of defense against liability lawsuits. However, to fully protect your assets, it is critical to understand what insurance is and what it does and does not do for asset protection.
Included within most typical insurance policies such as automobile, homeowner, landlord and business insurance are three main general categories of coverage:
- Liability coverage - this is the coverage to compensate the other party for bodily injury or property damage caused by you. For example, if you cause an automobile accident and the other car is damaged and the driver is injured, your liability coverage will pay for the injury of the other driver and the repair of the other car.
- Property protection coverage - this is the coverage to replace or repair your property for any sudden and accidental loss or damage caused by a covered peril. For example, if your car is also damaged in the above accident, your property protection coverage will pay to repair or replace your car after you pay your deductible.
- Other additional protection - this is a broad category of coverages designed to help you get by during the period when your property is being repaired like a rental car when your car is in the shop as well as other miscellaneous coverages like towing and medical expenses for you and your passengers.
Liability insurance gives you a layer of protection against lawsuit and lost of assets. However, it has a number of limitations: There are always limits on how much the insurance policy will pay for losses for which you are liable. If the court awards the person you've injured a judgment of $350,000 but your liability limit is just $100,000, the most the insurance policy will pay is $100,000. Guess who will have to come up with the remaining $250,000? That's right: you! You will have to come up with the cash or face the real possibility of losing your home and/or other assets. There are many exclusions in your insurance policies. For example, any liability from an intentional or criminal act is excluded. Sexual harassment, employment discrimination or wrongful termination is typically excluded as well. Discharge of waste and other toxic materials is generally excluded. Liabilities arising from breach of contracts or agreements are typically not covered. Professional liabilities such as malpractice, errors and omissions are usually excluded unless a separate professional liability policy is in force. In other words, for a LARGE liability claim, the insurance company will try to find ways to avoid paying. So unless it is specifically and explicitly covered by the insurance policy, you are most likely on your own. In addition, any failure to disclose material facts in your application or failure to report any material changes after the policy is in force gives the insurance company a way out of paying a claim even if it is covered. Most insurance policies do not cover many more ways you can be sued. For example, you might be sued for misappropriation of other's funds, fraud or allegation of fraud, breach of contract, slander, libel, copyright, trademark or patent infringement, divorce, accidents from a motorized speed race, a hostile working environment, a liability arising from a willful violation of an ordinance or a statute, suits from local, state or federal government agencies, just to name a few. You can't even buy liability insurance for these risks in most cases. And if you can find insurance for these risks, they will likely cost a great deal.
There is no question that we should all carry the insurance required by law, the lender or landlord as the first line of defense against lawsuits and loss of assets. However, since there are limits on what insurance will pay and there are too many situations where insurance will not provide the coverage, you cannot rely solely on insurance to protect your assets.
Oftentimes, just having all your assets visible to an aggressive injury attorney invites lawsuits that might otherwise not be filed. There is no better way to stop a potential lawsuit from starting than to lead the injury attorney to think that there won't be any money or assets for him to collect after spending all the time and money to go to trial even if he wins.