Most discussions of insurance and estate planning focus on the value of life insurance to your heirs. Not this one. Instead, let’s consider insurance to protect your income and assets now, and to shield your executor later.
What happens if you’re in a car accident with serious injuries or death – and it’s your fault? Expect to be sued and to pay a large judgment. Every driver is at risk of losing bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, rental property, and other non-exempt assets to a lawsuit.
In Texas, you may keep your homestead, pension, retirement accounts, annuities, and life insurance. However, cash distributions are not exempt and may go to the alert creditor. You may have substantial non-exempt assets, but what good are they if you cannot spend them?
As a rule of thumb, carry liability insurance equal to your non-exempt assets plus five to ten years of income. Suppose you have a home, an IRA, a modest checking account, and $300,000 in CDs. The home and IRA are exempt from creditors’ claims. The CDs are not. That suggests at least $300,000 in liability insurance. If Social Security and IRA income total $50,000 a year, another $250,000 to $500,000 in liability insurance is indicated. Even someone of modest means may want $500,000 to $1 million in liability insurance.
The typical automobile or homeowner’s policy offers no more than $500,000 in coverage. However, your agent can often provide an inexpensive umbrella policy from the same carrier with limits of $1 to $5 million, which is more than enough for most people.
Suppose you stop driving, pay off the mortgage, and die, judgment-free, without any liability insurance. Who cares at that point? Your executor should. An executor is a fiduciary with the most dangerous, thankless task known to the law. They must collect all your assets, pay all your debts, distribute the remainder to your beneficiaries, and make no mistakes. As one wag summarized it, “Whatever happens, it’s the executor’s fault.”
Both liability and property insurance will go a long way to protect the executor, and, ultimately, your heirs. New executors should review the estate with an insurance agent. Existing policies may be adequate. If not, the executor may obtain insurance at the estate’s expense. Better though, that you yourself review your insurance, and develop a plan to protect yourself in retirement. Doing so minimizes everyone’s risk, and leaves one less task to be done when you’re gone.