Personal Risk Management, Part 1: Insurance

Personal risk management is being aware of the risks in your home and in your life, and then planning how to handle those risks. Insurance plays a big part in managing risk. Most people don’t like paying insurance premiums, but when something happens and the insurance pays for a covered expense, they are relieved they had it.

The Key Takeaways
• Not recognizing and managing risk can set your family up for financial ruin.
• Recognizing and managing risk will give you and your family the freedom to live life, without worrying about how you would handle a catastrophic loss.

What kinds of risks should I be aware of?
Property and casualty risks include your car and other vehicles, home and furnishings, jewelry, cameras, and so forth. You would want to protect these from accidents, theft, fire, flood, and earthquake damage. Health and long-term care insurance help protect your finances if you become ill or injured. Disability income and life insurance help replace income in the event of a long-term illness or death. If you volunteer with children or youth, you may need personal liability insurance. An increase to your umbrella policy is warranted once you have teenage drivers. If you are a business owner, you may need insurance as part of a buy-sell agreement with a key employee or business partner in addition to business liability insurance. If you are in a high-risk profession (like health care, construction or real estate), you will probably need additional asset protection planning.

How much insurance do I need?
You need enough insurance to protect your assets in the worst-case scenario. At the same time, the premiums should be an amount you can comfortably afford in your budget. Decide what you need to insure, how much to insure it for, and how much you are able and willing to pay in deductibles and premiums.

What You Need to Know
Your family’s needs for insurance will change over time and will reflect your values at each stage in life. For example, you may need more life insurance when your children are young; you may want long-term care insurance as you near retirement (although it is less expensive when you are younger); you may not need as much personal liability insurance if you retire from volunteering or once your children become independent; and you may not need business insurance if you sell your business.

Actions to Consider
• Look at ways you can reduce premiums. For example, installing a home security alarm system or trimming shrubbery may save on your homeowner’s insurance. If you drive an older car, you may not need collision insurance. If you can handle higher deductibles, your premiums will likely be lower.
• Look for ways to reduce risk entirely. For example, you may want to sell a property that is high risk or even retire from a high-risk profession.
• Some risk may be perfectly acceptable to you. Consider what you might lose if the worst happens and see if you could live with the loss. This is called risk budgeting.
• Keep good records on personal property. Review the values and your insurance coverage annually. Values fluctuate, and you don’t want to over- or under-insure.
• Determine what you would lose if someone sued you with a liability claim. You worked hard to build your net worth and you do not want to lose wealth if someone files a claim against you. Even if it is a frivolous claim, you may have to spend a small fortune to defend yourself. Take action to protect your assets for yourself and your family.
• Health care and long-term care costs are increasing at an alarming pace, people are living longer, and many older Americans have seen their retirement savings decline in recent down markets. A professional can help you evaluate your health care risks and determine how to plan for them.

How to Choose a Trustee

When you establish a trust, you name someone to be the trustee. A trustee basically does what you do right now with your financial affairs—collect income, pay bills and taxes, save and invest for the future, buy and sell assets, provide for your loved ones, keep accurate records and generally keep things organized and in good order.

The Key Takeaways
• You can be trustee of your revocable living trust. If you are married, your spouse can be co-trustee.
• Most irrevocable trusts do not allow you to be trustee.
• Even though you may be allowed to be your own trustee, you may not be the best choice.
• You can also choose an adult child, trusted friend or a professional or corporate trustee.
• Naming someone else to be co-trustee with you helps them become familiar with your trust, allows them to learn firsthand how you want the trust to operate, and lets you evaluate the co-trustee’s abilities.

Who Can Be Your Trustee
If you have a revocable living trust, you can be your own trustee. If you are married, your spouse can be trustee with you. This way, if either of you become incapacitated or die, the other can continue to handle your financial affairs without interruption. Most married couples who own assets together, especially those who have been married for some time, are usually co-trustees.

You don’t have to be your own trustee. Some people choose an adult son or daughter, a trusted friend or another relative. Some like having the experience and investment skills of a professional or corporate trustee (e.g., a bank trust department or trust company). Naming someone else as trustee or co-trustee with you does not mean you lose control. The trustee you name must follow the instructions in your trust and report to you. You can even replace your trustee should you change your mind.

When to Consider a Professional or Corporate Trustee
You may be elderly, widowed, and/or in declining health and have no children or other trusted relatives living nearby. Or your candidates may not have the time or ability to manage your trust. You may simply not have the time, desire or experience to manage your investments by yourself. Also, certain irrevocable trusts will not allow you to be trustee. In these situations, a professional or corporate trustee may be exactly what you need: they have the experience, time and resources to manage your trust and help you meet your investment goals.

What You Need to Know
Professional or corporate trustees will charge a fee to manage your trust, but generally the fee it is quite reasonable, especially when you consider their experience, services provided and investment returns.

Actions to Consider
* Honestly evaluate if you are the best choice to be your own trustee. Someone else may truly do a better job than you, especially in managing your assets.
* Name someone to be co-trustee with you now. This would eliminate the time a successor would need to become knowledgeable about your trust, your assets, and the needs and personalities of your beneficiaries. It would also let you evaluate if the co-trustee is the right choice to manage the trust in your absence.
* Evaluate your trustee candidates carefully and realistically.
* If you are considering a professional or corporate trustee, talk to several. Compare their services, investment returns and fees.