Insurance Gaps May Pose Risks for High-Net-Worth Households

Serious accidents don’t happen very often, but when they do, the impact can be devastating. And unfortunately, you could be held legally responsible if a member of your household causes a car wreck or if someone is injured on your property, even if you go to great lengths to help make your home and the surrounding area safe for visitors.

If you own a pool or trampoline, entertain often, have teenagers who drive, employ household workers, coach youth sports, or are a public figure, the odds are even higher that you could become the target of a lawsuit. Of course, the wealthier you are, the more you stand to lose if a liability claim is filed against you. It’s important to reassess your liability coverage periodically and make sure it’s sufficient based on your family’s financial situation, lifestyle, and the related risks.

Is your umbrella big enough?

Standard homeowners and auto insurance policies generally cover personal liability, but you may not have enough coverage to protect your income and assets in the event of a high-dollar judgment. That’s where an umbrella policy comes into the picture, providing an extra layer of financial protection against lawsuits claiming that you or a member of your household is liable for bodily injury or damage to the property of others (up to policy limits).

To purchase an umbrella policy, you must first have a certain amount of liability coverage in place on your homeowners/renters and auto insurance (typically $300,000 and $250,000, respectively), which serve as a deductible for the umbrella policy. An umbrella policy will commonly provide liability coverage worth $1 million to $10 million. One general guideline is to have liability coverage in place that matches your net worth. This includes assets such as savings and investment accounts, cars, valuable art and collectibles, plus the equity in your home and/or any other real estate that you own. You may want to add the value of your projected stream of future income. (Qualified retirement plan assets may have some protection from civil liability under federal and/or state law, depending on the plan and jurisdiction.)

An umbrella policy may help pay legal expenses and compensation for time off from work to defend yourself in court. It might also cover some nonbusiness-related personal injury claims that are typically excluded from standard homeowners policies, such as libel, slander, invasion of privacy, and defamation of character. A personal umbrella policy won’t cover your own injuries or damage to your property; nor will it cover liability associated with your business — for that, you may need a commercial umbrella policy. You generally won’t be covered if you hurt someone on purpose, commit a crime, or breach a contract. Read your policy carefully for other possible exclusions, such as injury claims involving some breeds of dogs.

One general guideline is to have liability coverage in place that matches your net worth.

Special situations to consider

Household help. If you have a nanny, housekeeper, or other employees who work at your home, workers compensation insurance is typically required by law. A type of coverage known as employment practice liability insurance, which covers claims such as harassment, wrongful termination, and discrimination, may also be available.

Special events. If you host parties where alcohol is served, always take steps to moderate guests’ drinking and don’t let anyone drive home intoxicated. Consider purchasing a special event policy designed to help limit your exposure if you host a costly event, such as a wedding, at your home or another venue.

Names matter. If you establish a trust or limited liability company (LLC) for the ownership of certain assets, make sure the named owner is accurately reflected in insurance policies meant to protect those assets. To ensure coverage for an automobile, for example, the name on the policy should match the registration. Property purchased through an LLC should generally be insured by the LLC, with the individual as an additional named insured.