2022 Financial self-defense basics

Tips to start your year off with your finances protected.

Starting 2022 by addressing some basic defensive legal and financial housekeeping issues is a key part of every physician’s asset protection planning.

We have consistently advised that as significant as malpractice risk is, it’s important that doctors think broadly about all the risks they face beyond that risk or even litigation risk in general. While some of the risk management you require may involve the use of complex legal tools and specialized advisors, there are some vital defensive basics you can immediately address on your own.

  • Secure any old phones, tablets and computers. There have been significant updates in the technology features of mobile phones, tablets and laptops (and historically heavy marketing and incentives) which means that millions of Americans got new personal electronic devices in the last 60 days alone. I’m concerned about the increased use of these devices for both personal and business use during increased remote working scenarios, and the fact that trade-in programs are more common than ever, especially for Apple product fans. We’ve previously covered the importance of a secure equipment disposal plan for your business equipment. Given the crossover in use of these devices and the amount of sensitive data they contain about every aspect of your life, it’s important you and all your family members (are you sharing any accounts?) think and act carefully about security and properly deleting your information before trading them in, gifting them or otherwise disposing of them.
  • Check your credit. We should all be doing this annually to identify any errors or issues and to be sure that no unauthorized credit or accounts have been obtained in our names. This kind of fraud often spikes in the 4th quarter of every year when many new accounts are opened and you are making more purchases than usual as part of your holiday shopping, giving criminals good “camouflage” among your legitimate purchases.
  • Change your passwords, store them the right way, set up two-factor authentication on all your online accounts and avoid these common mistakes
    1. Don’t use the same password at more than one website
    2. Don’t store passwords on your desktop in a document marked “passwords”
    3. Use a secure password storage service
    4. Don’t use passwords with your own name or that end in “21” or “22”
  • If you and others connected to your accounts are making any of these mistakes or need more specific tips please review Erika Adler, JD’s previous warnings on remote work security as well my conversation with an IT security expert.
  • Buy and regularly use a home shredder. Many exposures and instances of ID theft still happen the old-fashioned way, when papers with sensitive information including account numbers and other personal identifying information, including 3rd party information you have a legal duty to protect, fall into the wrong hands. The FTC has a simple guide to help identify what you need to keep and what you should securely shred.
  • Update beneficiary designations. If you’ve been married, divorced, or have had any other significant change in your assets or family structure, it’s important that you review and update beneficiary designations on bank accounts, retirement plans, insurance policies and other financial accounts to avoid unnecessary expense, delay and mistakes in to whom your assets (or assets you yourself should be receiving) from a spouse or other family member, are directed.
  • Invest heavily in insurance including a BIG umbrella policy. Many of the calls attorneys get from panicked clients are made when the caller finds out they are either un-uninsured or underinsured for a particular liability, and when it is legally too late to implement asset protection measures. Personal insurance coverage requires layers and risk specific coverage, with the best carriers, at the right (high) dollar amounts. In addition to owning occupation disability insurance and life insurance adequate to replace your income, high limit personal liability insurance is a vital asset protection investment for every physician. There is no step you can take to protect your wealth that is more predictable and cost effective than this and I advise that a personal liability umbrella coverage of two million dollars minimum should be carried by every successful person, as well as loss coverage adequate to cover the true value of your property.

These basics will help manage some of the most predictable personal financial risks of 2022. We will continue to examine issues and strategies to protect your assets through the year.