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How Car Accidents Can Wreck Retirement Accounts

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Expensive and rising healthcare costs are no secret to financial advisers whose clients are approaching or are in retirement. What usually is planned for and discussed less frequently, however, is how unexpected medical and related expenses in connection with accidents can have a devastating impact on investment accounts, particularly for younger clients.

Most people are aware that an accident can happen, although they rarely think it will happen to them. Yet an estimated 3.14 million Americans were involved in an auto accident in 2016, according to the National Highway Safety Administration, which underscores how common they are.

Consider the case of Sonya, a 35-year-old single professional with more than $600,000 in her investment account.

Sonya was driving home from work one day when an uninsured motorist ran a traffic light and plowed into her new, $50,000 convertible. The car was totaled and Sonya was severely injured. She was rushed to the hospital, required surgery for several broken bones, and then went to a rehab facility for physical therapy after being released.

Fortunately, Sonya’s medical coverage at work covered her hospitalization and rehab stays, as well as at-home visits during her recuperation. And her own auto insurance policy paid for a new car. But Sonya was unable to work for a year. And while her employer-paid short-term disability insurance covered about 65% of her lost income for three months, she had no long-term coverage and had to pay many health-related expenses out of pocket.

In all, she had to forego $120,000 in income, had to pay $10,000 in medical expenses not covered by her plan and spent $65,000 for at-home assistance during her recuperation.

Fortunately, Sonya had savings outside her investment accounts that covered those expenses. Many other accident victims are not as fortunate and have to dip into investments often earmarked for their children’s education and their retirement — which often means paying penalties for tapping into qualified accounts.

While Sonya didn’t deplete her investments, she did have to forego making contributions to her qualified accounts and adding to her other investments, which coming during her prime earning years meant that the compounded impact on her ultimate nest egg will be sizeable.

Moreover, the accident delayed and may even derail her plans to purchase a home and pay for graduate school so that she could earn an MBA degree leading to higher earnings. With the help of her financial advisor, Sonya could have avoided the loss of income and the out-of-pocket expenses she incurred if she had been covered by a more comprehensive auto insurance policy. To be sure, no one expects financial advisors to be experts in property and casualty insurance, let alone the nuances of automobile insurance and provisions to protect against uninsured motorists. But a recent survey conducted for Chubb found that 85% of successful families place considerable importance on their financial advisor acting as their “financial quarterback” to help them navigate a wide range of financially-related matters including insurance.

Developing a relationship with a knowledgeable property and casualty insurance agent who can provide an annual review of clients’ coverage needs is a best-practice way of meeting and exceeding your clients’ service expectations. Many times, an expert review of property and casualty coverage will reveal ways in which clients can consolidate coverage and get better protection.

Certainly, for the physical pain that comes as a result of an auto accident, financial advisors can only provide the emotional support that helps healing. But to help insulate clients from the financial harm than can come from auto and other accidents, financial advisors can be an invaluable asset.

Fran O’Brien is division president, North America Personal Risk Services, Chubb. She can be reached at [email protected]