Five year-end asset protection issues

As we head into the Thanksgiving 2020 holiday, keep these details in mind to help bring a stressful year to a peaceful and predictable close.

I start with a note of gratitude to our readers, many of whom have been kind enough to follow this column for a decade and some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with personally. Special thanks to those of you that have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis this year, your service and sacrifices are certainly among the things all Americans have to be grateful for and that we have hopefully helped support in some small way. – Ike Devji

We’ve covered a variety of risks this year ranging from the most likely and recurring ones like abusive year-end tax planning, to timely and seasonal ones like personal security, coronavirus malpractice liability and pandemic recession risks. Here are a few more year-end issues to consider

Celebrating Safely

Managing the risks of the office party. Even given current circumstances, many medical offices will still be having holiday parties in some form. This year adds the obvious additional risks of COVID-19 exposure to the long list of predictable and recurring liabilities I have warned you about in detail on multiple occasions. Be especially aware of so called “Covid fatigue” and its national prevalence, including among medical professionals, and make sure you plan and manage an event that is safe for them and for you, both physicallyand legally. While I certainly understand and respect your desire to express your gratitude to staff and partners in very trying times, the usual risks of an office party, combined with the added stress of the season, political tensions and the need for social distancing are leading some employers to think outside the box. Some alternate ideas include gifts, PTO or bonuses in lieu of a party, additional perks or benefits in the office like catered lunches and other pampering touches and even providing additional PPE like air purifiers, which one doctor gave her staff to take home.

Beware data breach risk when replacing technology.

ID theft and related crimes targeting healthcare organizations are at an all-time high and moving large numbers of employees to remote working conditions has only increased that risk. Given these changes, the number of practices replacing obsolete equipment in their offices at year end and buying new laptops, phones and tablets for remote workers more appropriately equipped for the “new normal” like telemedicine and Zoom meetings will be a goldmine of equipment that may store 1000s of protected records that hackers may be interested in. Have a disciplined policy and procedure to replace any such equipment and track where and how it was stored and disposed of as well as having heavy limits of data breach and cyber liability insurance in place.

Reevaluate your personal legal planning and liability insurance coverage in light of current circumstances.

Do you have adult children, parents or other extended family that will be occupying your home or using your cars for an extended period of time due to lockdowns, school closures and other changes that increase your risk? Do you have adequate life insurance in place given the increased Coronavirus related personal safety risks frontline healthcare workers and their families face? Is your legal planning, including both estate and asset protection planning in place and adequate for your risks?

Take some money home.

Many practice owners leave too much money above a reasonable operating balance in their practices. If your finances allow it, consider “de-risking” some of that excess capital by taking it out of the business and away from its liability to add to your personal savings. Consider increasing your liquidity for any emergencies or opportunities that may arise, you can always loan it back to your practice if required and you may be limited in taking any outsize distribution in the event of a liability at the practice before you do so.

Fund qualified plans sooner rather than later.

If you make recurring fixed contributions to qualified retirement plans late in the year or early next year, considering doing so now to start any vesting period required to avail of statutory creditor protection. For those that make specific dollar amount contributions based on the guidance of their CPA, consider making estimated contributions, even partial ones, now, to avoid any superseding event preventing the funding of your plan.

About the Author

Ike Devji, JD, has practiced law exclusively in the areas of asset protection, risk management and wealth preservation for the last 16 years. He helps protect a national client base with more than $5 billion in personal assets, including several thousand physicians. He is a contributing author to multiple books for physicians and a frequent medical conference speaker and CME presenter. Learn more at www.ProAssetProtection.com.