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Lives of Doctor Wives: Survivor Saturdays: When the Grass is Green... Put Up a Fence

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Survivor Saturdays: When the Grass is Green... Put Up a Fence

It's an unfortunate reality that when you're married to a doctor, you're more likely to become the target of litigation and taxation. There is a misconception that doctors are disproportionately wealthy and deserve to be sued in order to share the wealth. Few people know that a primary care physician starts out making around $125,000 annually (ref) and carries educational debt of around $155,000 (ref). Until politicians consider reforming how the legal system treats physicians and how tax laws penalize those who work hard, physician families have to go to extraordinary measures to protect themselves from losing everything. The following are some steps to minimize your loss.

When possible (and legal), put assets in your name rather than the physician's name. This is a necessary step in protecting your family from losing your home or car in one of many lawsuits to come. Your spouse will be named in future law suits simply because he signed a sheet or was on the shift roster, so you won't likely avoid this ugliness. If you have more than one vehicle in the family, it is advisable to put one in each person's name in case one partner dies and their assets are temporarily frozen.*

Consider taking out an umbrella policy. Most homeowner's insurance has a cap on how much they will pay out if someone sues for physical harm while on your property. The same is true with auto insurance and home owners association board member insurance. Your spouse may have additional insurance coverage through his employment or through another group, but there is usually a gap between the two. Check to see if you need an umbrella policy to bridge the coverage gap between your own insurance policy and other policies you rely on.**

Examine your will, and if you don't have one... put one together. You want to have control over who takes guardianship of your children in the event of your death. Even the strongest family relationships can go sour when inheritance enters the picture. To further protect yourself and your family members, consider setting up a trust fund so your estate can go directly to your children (through the trust fund) without suffering unreasonable inheritance taxes and attorney fees. Some people also release inheritance to their children in stages; assuring the children will have time to mature before receiving the full amount.***

Using your spouse's knowledge of various emergency procedures, create a living will and durable power of attorney for healthc are. You don't want your life or suffering to be controlled by someone who benefits from you receiving or not receiving life support. Take time to listen to what your spouse wants, too, in case you have to be his/her voice. With a living will in place, you can both relax knowing you've communicated your preferences on paper.

Being married to a doctor has its benefits and it's downfalls. With a little proactive planning, you can enjoy the "green grass" around you.****

by Kathi (http://wingspouse.com/)

* When my grandfather passed away, the family vehicle was only in his name. My grandmother was not able to use the car until his estate was settled. If the car had been in her name or in both of their names, she would have had access to it without waiting for all the paperwork to be processed.

**You might be thinking your family doesn't do anything to invite a law suit but a simple slip and fall, swing set or trampoline injury, or car accident can result in an expensive legal battle. M and I were even named in a civil law suit around something as simple as a house closing. We never received a phone call before the papers were served.

*** Legal jargon varies by state, so draw up a new will if you move to another state. When we first set up our will, we didn't put in clauses for unknown future children who would later be born. We had to update our papers in a short time when I became pregnant with the second one.

**** This advice comes from me, a seasoned wife who is no longer dealing with the risks of a practicing physician. Laws change, so always seek expert counsel (which I'm not) before following the advice above.

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Blogger Tasha said...

Thanks so much! It really is ridiculous how others think doctors are merely money pots and look for any opportunity to sue.

June 6, 2009 at 8:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a great post, Kathi! I will be sharing it with my husband.

Thanks so much for putting it together!!

A question: What if the stuff you own is in both of your names. For example, our car is in both of our names. Would it be likely that I could still not use our car if something happened to him and the estate was not settled?

June 6, 2009 at 10:00 AM  
Blogger Kathi Browne said...

joz1234, I can't answer that, but it's a good question. Is there a doctor's wife who is in the legal field and willing to answer?

June 6, 2009 at 10:34 AM  
Blogger Married to a med student - Marissa Nicole said...

I can't imagine you would not be able to use the car if it was in both your names - because I would think that if one of you would pass on it would automatically be the property of the one that survived. (I would assume a car like a home would be owned in joint tenancy - but I don't do estate work so don't quote me on that).
P.S. Kathi I like your little legal disclosure at the end - a true sign that you have been involved in litigation.

June 7, 2009 at 6:54 PM  
Blogger MW said...

This wouldn't help if YH was sued for a non-medically related incident, but I'm curious - do Doctors ever incorporate themselves?

Apologies if my terminology is not 100% accurate, but I know many actors become their own corporation. So all of their contracts are made betweem the producer and the corporation and their paychecks are made out to the corporation. This is so that if there is some breach (which happens quite a bit in entertainment, I imagine), their personal assets cannot be targeted, only the corporation's assets.

I don't know if it would be feasible for a physician who is employed by a hospital, but perhaps those in private practice would have this ability?

It's still a service, but doctors have a continuous practice rather than spurts of work like actors, so perhaps the same rules do not apply. Also, doctors and actors are sued for different things, I suppose.

Lawyers do you know?

June 8, 2009 at 10:58 AM  
Blogger Married to a med student - Marissa Nicole said...

I don't think doctors can incorporate themselves per say but they can incorporate their business it is called a "professional corporation" in which all the owners have to have a medical license, lawyers do this same thing to protect themselves. It is essentially a specific/special kind of incorporation.

June 8, 2009 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Private practice docs can be a "P.A." (professional association), and that protects them individually if one of their partners is involved in a lawsuit.

My understanding is that medical malpractice insurance will cover the cost of a settlement in a malpractice case. I suppose, theoretically, that if the settlement amount exceeded the coverage, then personal assets could be involved. But I think this is rare.

The P.A. may have some kind of protection of personal assets, but I don't know that for sure.

(Where is Bea?)

Pass this along to your husbands: one of the best forms of protection against medical malpractice is A GOOD BEDSIDE MANNER. Studies have proven this. If he is direct, honest, and genuinely caring, he will be less likely to be sued. It happened to us just recently. You can take that to the bank!

June 8, 2009 at 10:47 PM  
Blogger Married to a med student - Marissa Nicole said...

What Jennifer said is true - I used to work for a personal injury and med mal attorney and often times the people would not have sued but had ALL of the following: 1) they had damages and 2) the doctor was a jerk and 3) the doctors and/or staff lied to them to cover it up rather than apologize - many clients admit that they wouldn't have sued if they got an apology and were treated well!

June 9, 2009 at 9:38 AM  
Blogger Melisa said...

You have great insights, thanks!!!

June 9, 2009 at 8:17 PM  

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