Legal planning for life after practice


Legal planning for life after practice

Dec 01, 2010

I just finished organizing all of my miscellaneous old car parts. This project was something I had put off for years but finally forced myself to do. I feel good about having a catalogue of transmissions and valve lifters. I feel good about myself, too. My wife Mary is thrilled that I made good on my promise to do it — not because she's an auto enthusiast like I am, but because she's not. Confused? Keep reading. My motivation to organize, tag and label car parts is actually related to the topic of this article, legal planning.

As is true for the majority of my readers, I spent many years becoming a capable and competent veterinarian with little thought about the hurdles of the future. I focused, rather, on the promise and excitement my career would hold — all the good things around the corner. Who can deny the excitement of graduation, the first real job and the potential buy-in or practice purchase just a few years away? From surrounding ourselves with our favorite equipment and products to executing the latest diagnostic or surgical protocols, positive experiences fill our professional lives.

As I approached my 50s, I realized that while focusing on the positive is important, ignoring the inevitability of the negative is silly. Aches and pains, the cost of prescriptions and family members' car accidents don't show up on the veterinarian's checklist of hoped-for professional experiences. Yet, they happen. Events outside the clinic can have just as much impact — potentially far more impact — on our quality of life than working at or owning a veterinary practice.

Let's take a minute to examine life outside the clinic walls, particularly from a legal perspective. My goal is to help you minimize the negative impact of forces in your personal life that are not within your control. With careful planning, we might be able to take some of the sting out of potentially negative events and circumstances.

Insure your ability, not just your life

I have always been a positive thinker with regard to my health and well-being. I have suffered through cow kicks, dog bites and truck accidents without even missing work. My invulnerability seemed undeniable until a minor infection put me into the hospital recently. The experience felt a lot like getting kicked by a cow except that I was suffering without being paid for the experience. In fact, it took a couple of potentially serious illnesses (now thankfully resolved) to convince me that I am not indestructible.

None of us is bulletproof. In fact, statistics clearly show that a worker in virtually any field is far more likely to encounter a substantial long-term disability than to die during his working years. We must take the potential for disability into account. Yet, while most responsible adults with dependents have some form of life insurance, many of us in the animal-health field do not have private disability insurance.

Most of us understand the need for term life insurance, especially if we financially support a parent, spouse or child. Life insurance takes care of expenses for a while if we die during our working years. However, what happens if we are injured or become ill while still in the work force? Many veterinarians believe that the government "social safety net" will be there for them. Before you rely on that assumption, check your federal, local and state laws to see just how much — or rather, how little — money is available under the disability and workers' compensation funds to which we all contribute under legal mandate. The money you would get for general expenses is barely enough for one person to manage.

My strong recommendation for any veterinarian who provides partial or total financial support is to locate an insurance broker. Find one who handles multiple insurance carriers' products and shop for a private disability policy.