I don’t sell insurance, and often I’ll suggest clients cut back — not add to — their insurance. But it’s clear to me that a lot of professionals would benefit from beefing up one kind of insurance coverage: disability. Here’s why, and how.
The why: a professional is more likely to need disability than life insurance in his or her working life. 20-25% of 45-year-olds will need it before they retire. Secondly, although your company may provide some coverage, it’s often not enough for your family’s expenses when you are disabled, meaning you should supplement it with an individual policy.
The how: first, check your company policy. If it doesn’t provide adequate coverage, get your own policy to “sit on top” of your employer’s policy. Some employers’ insurance providers will offer that kind of supplement, or you may have to buy it from another insurer. An easy way to increase your protection without adding a second policy is by asking your employer to declare the premiums they pay for you as income on your tax returns. That will cost you every year, but if you become disabled, you will receive the benefits tax-free. Otherwise, they are taxable income, reducing your benefit by perhaps 25%.
If you are buying your own supplemental policy, what do you look for? First, does the policy kick in if you can’t do your own job (“own occupation” coverage), or only if you can’t perform any job? An “any occupation” clause means a surgeon with arthritis who can still teach, but only makes a fraction of what he would have made as a surgeon, would not receive disability insurance benefits. Other features that improve a policy include coverage for injury or illness, inflation protection, a shorter period between loss of income and when you start receiving insurance benefits, and a “non-cancellable” feature, preventing the insurer from cancelling the policy or hiking premiums.
Shopping for disability insurance isn’t exciting, and the policies can be complex and expensive. If the premium is too high, there are ways to reduce it by scaling back features. But take the time to understand what you have — and to get more coverage if you are exposed. There’s a real chance you will need it.