Asset Protection For Doctors

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Every day, we speak to Doctors about how they can achieve the protection they desire in order to maintain their wealth. In these conversations, we hear many common myths. Perhaps you too hold some of these false beliefs. Five common myths are:
· “My assets are owned jointly with my spouse, so I’m okay.”
· “My assets are owned by my spouse, so I’m okay.”
· “I am insured, so I’m covered.”
· “I can just give assets away if I get into trouble.”
· “My Living Trust (or Family Trust) provides asset protection.”
These myths are dangerous because they lull the individual or family into a false sense of financial security. This, in turn, may prevent the Doctor from taking necessary steps to truly protect the assets. Let’s examine each of these common myths and dispel them.

Myth #1: “My Assets Are Owned Jointly With My Spouse, So I’m Okay.”
Most Doctors hold their homes and other property in joint ownership. Unfortunately, this ownership structure provides little asset protection in both community and non-community property states.
In community property states, like California, community assets will be exposed to community debts regardless of title. Community debts include any debt that arises during marriage as the result of an act that helped the community. Certainly, any claims resulting from a medical practice, income-producing asset (rental real estate) or auto accident would be included.
Even in non-community property states, joint property is typically at least 50% vulnerable to the claims against either spouse. Therefore, in most states, at least 50% of such property will be vulnerable—and all of the other problems associated with joint property still exist in non-community property states.

Myth #2: “My Assets Are Owned By My Spouse, So I’m Okay.”
One of the most common misconceptions about asset protection is that assets in your spouse’s name cannot be touched. We cannot tell you how many Doctors have come to us with their assets in the name of one spouse and assumed that those assets were protected from claims against the other. This often happens when one spouse has significant exposure as a Doctor and one does not.
Unfortunately, simply transferring title of an asset to the non-vulnerable spouse does not protect the asset. The creditor is often able to seize assets owned by the spouse of the debtor by proving that the income or funds of the debtor were used to purchase the asset. To determine if the asset is reversible, three questions can be asked:
· Whose income was used to purchase the asset?
· Has the vulnerable spouse used the asset at any time?
· Does this spouse have any control over the asset?
If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, then the creditor can be paid from these assets.
California allows a debt incurred during the marriage to be recovered from any community property. According to California Family Code §910(a), “the community estate is liable for a debt incurred by either spouse before or during marriage, regardless of which spouse has the management and control of the property and regardless of whether one or both spouses are parties to the debt or to a judgment for the debt.”
Said another way, if assets constitute community property, it is irrelevant that community property assets are titled in the name of one spouse. The creditor can attach all of the community property, even if only one spouse is the debtor and even if the debt arose prior to marriage. Because each spouse has a coextensive ownership interest in community property, creditors of either spouse can reach all community property of the two spouses.

Myth #3: 1 Am Insured, So I’m Covered.”Gentleman Checking His Asset Protection
While we strongly advocate insurance as a first line of defense, an insurance policy is 50 pages long for a reason. Within those numerous pages there are a variety of exclusions and limitations that most people never take the time to read, let alone understand. Even if you do have insurance and the policy does cover the risk in question, there are still risks of underinsurance, strict liability, and bankruptcy of the insurance company. In any of these cases, you could be left with the sole financial responsibility for the loss. Lastly, with losses that fall within the plan’s coverage limits, you still may see your future premiums go up significantly.

Myth #4: 1 Can Just Give Assets Away If I Get Into Trouble.”
Another common misconception of asset protection is that you can simply give away or transfer your assets if you ever get sued. If this were the case, you could just hide your assets when necessary. You wouldn’t need an asset protection specialist. You would only need a shovel and some good map-making skills so you could find your buried treasure later.
In recognizing the potential for people to attempt to give away their assets if they get into trouble, there are laws prohibiting fraudulent transfers (or fraudulent conveyances). In a nutshell, if you make an asset transfer after an incident takes place (whether you knew about the pending lawsuit or not), the judge has the right to rule the transfer a fraudulent conveyance and order the asset to be returned to the transferor, thereby subjecting the assets to the claims of the creditor.
If you have been sued or suspect that you may be sued, there are other ways you can protect yourself. Typically, reactive last minute strategies are not very effective and may be much more expensive than the highly successful strategies that can be implemented when there are no creditors lurking.

Myth #5: “My Living Trust (Or Family Trust) Provides Asset Protection.”
There have been countless instances where clients have come to us with the impression that their revocable Living Trust provides asset protection. While you are alive, this is simply not true. Revocable Trust assets are fully attachable by any creditor as the trust is a grantor trust. Later in this Lesson you will read about Irrevocable More

How to Work Less

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Work Less and Enjoy LifeThere is no doubt that hard work is a key to success. However, this character trait is not one we can teach. Some people become harder workers as they mature, but seldom does a zebra change its stripes. There are generally hard workers and not-so-hard workers. The goal of this section on Leverage is to help you get the most out of any level of effort. Whether you fancy yourself hard working or laid-back, Leverage can help you get more out of your desired amount of effort. In this chapter, we will discuss the capacity problems of Leverage, how education can increase your ability to Leverage your effort and then suggest ways physicians can overcome the barriers of capacity.

You Can Leverage Hard Work…But Effort Is A Capacity Problem
The basic and inherent problem with effort is that you only have two hands and two feet, and there are only 24 hours in a day. If we consider the case of two landscapers (Lazy Larry and Manic Mike) with very different work ethics, we can illustrate these physical constraints we all have.
Let’s assume that Lazy Larry and Manic Mike earn $50 per house per week. If Lazy Larry works five days per week and landscapes 8 houses per day, he will earn $2,000 per week before paying overhead, staff, equipment, taxes, etc. Manic Mike can work seven days per week and landscape 10 houses per day. This would give him precious little time off for family or personal time, but he would earn $3,500 per week before all of his expenses.
Both of these landscapers might consider themselves successful (depending on their goals and values). But if hard working Manic Mike wants to make more money, there aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week unless he does something that earns him more money per house or he finds a way to Leverage something other than his own effort. The next application of Leverage could help Mike do just that.

Leveraging Education
The idea of leveraging education to create wealth is no secret. In fact, it has become part of the American Dream. For over a century, immigrants have come to America and have taken advantage of the educational system. They have pushed their children to do well in school in hopes that they would get a good job and enjoy a higher standard of living. They have also pushed their children to find careers that pay them more money than a career like Manic Mike chose.
Leveraging education is a key element of building and protecting wealth. To prove this point, consider the following salaries of highly educated professions. When considering the earning potential of these professions, keep in mind that the median U.S. household income for the year 2007 was $48,201, which means that half of all United States households earned less than $48,201 per year. (US Census Bureau’s 8/27/07 Current Population Survey (CPS)). According to a USA Today article on 1/18/06, the first year salary plus signing bonus for an MBA (2 years of graduate school) was $106,000.
According to MD Salaries (www.mdsalaries.blogspot.com), the first year salary of a neurosurgeon ranged between $350,000 and $417,000 in each of these cities: Houston, New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Seattle. Neurosurgery requires the completion of four years of medical school, a one-year internship, and a rigorous 5- to 7-year residency. Thus, there is no doubt that leveraging education can help you earn more money per year and increase your wealth faster than if you had a job with a lower level of education. Physicians use this type of Leverage quite well.

Education And Effort Are Not Enough
Would you be surprised to hear that the neurosurgeon mentioned above and Manic Mike have the same problem? While we are not saying that Mike is performing brain surgery, we are suggesting that they both have the same fundamental problem—albeit at a different level of income. Mike doesn’t have enough hours in the day or days in the week to increase his business. Similarly, a neurosurgeon’s income is limited by the number of surgeries he can perform as well as constrained by the number of hours in a day and days in a week. Even if you assume that there is an endless supply of patients who need brain surgery, and there is an endless supply of lawns to be mowed, the surgeon is limited just like Mike. In other words, a landscaper earning $50 per house has the same capacity problem as a neurosurgeon earning $500 per hour because:
1. They are limited in the amount of money they can earn until they figure out how to Leverage what they do
2. They only make money when they are actually working
This is a lesson that savvy business owners and investors figured out long ago. As a result, the most successful business owners:
· Always focus on the Leverage of any business.
· Never consider increasing effort as a legitimate, long term means to increasing income.
· Never enter into a business that requires them to constantly “work” to make money.
For these reasons, we prefer to focus our articles, seminars, books, and personal consulting recommendations on strategies that help Leverage assets and Leverage people.

The Diagnosis
All teenagers have parents, teachers and coaches who tell them to work harder. We prefer to tell you—and show you—how to work smarter without having to work harder (or having to clean your room or take out the trash). The Lesson applies to anyone—no matter how hard working or lazy you may be. If you want to work less and build more, you can do it. Applications of this “smarter working” lifestyle will be the focus of the next two chapters.

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