These days, it's not unusual to hear of $2 million, $10 million, and even $20 million court judgments against individuals. If someone is injured in your home, or if you cause a serious auto accident, you could be subjected to such a judgment. If you don't have an umbrella liability policy at the time of the accident, you will be responsible for anything above the limits of your homeowners/renters or auto insurance policy.
Here's an example of how ULI works to protect you. Say you have an auto insurance policy with a liability limit of $100,000 per accident. You also have a $1 million umbrella liability policy. You are later found responsible for a serious automobile accident, and the court finds you liable for $700,000 in damages. In this case, your auto insurance would pay the first $100,000 of the judgment, which would satisfy the deductible under your umbrella policy. Your umbrella policy would then cover the portion of the judgment not covered by your auto insurance ($600,000).
You should also be aware that certain types of liability claims (e.g., libel and slander) are not covered under basic homeowners, auto, or other types of insurance policies. An endorsement can be added to these policies to provide some protection against these types of personal injury claims. Or, you can purchase ULI, which covers these claims.
A typical umbrella liability policy provides the following protection, up to the coverage limits specified in the policy:
- Protection for claims of bodily injuries or property damage caused by you, members of your household, or hazards on your property, for which you are found legally liable
- Personal liability coverage for incidents that occur on or off your property
- Additional protection above your basic auto policy for auto-related liabilities
- Protection against non-business-related personal injury claims, such as slander, libel, wrongful eviction, and false arrest
- Legal defense costs for a covered loss, including lawyers' fees and associated court costs
What's not covered?
Umbrella liability insurance typically provides extremely broad coverage. Furthermore, if something is not expressly excluded from coverage, it is covered. Exclusions vary from one insurer to another and from one policy to another, but the following are some items typically excluded from coverage:
- Intentional damage caused by you or a member of your family or household
- Damages arising out of business or professional pursuits
- Liability that you accept under the terms of a contract or agreement
- Liability related to the ownership, maintenance, and use of aircraft, nontraditional watercraft (e.g., jet skis, air boats), and most recreational vehicles
- Damage to property owned, used, or maintained by you (the insured)
- Damage covered under a workers' compensation policy
- Liability arising as a result of war or insurrection
How big of an umbrella are we talking about?
Determining how much liability coverage you need is not an exact science. You might think that you need only enough liability insurance to protect your assets, but a large judgment against you could easily wipe out your assets and put your future earnings in jeopardy. That's why you should also consider factors such as how often you have guests in your home, whether you operate a home-based business, how much you drive, whether you have teenage drivers in your home, and whether your lifestyle gives the impression that you have "deep pockets."
Coverage limits vary, but a typical policy will provide liability coverage worth $1 million to $10 million. Of course, as your coverage limit increases, the premium will also increase. However, this type of insurance is typically very affordable. You need to decide both how much insurance you need and how much insurance you can afford. Your financial advisor can help you determine how much coverage is appropriate for you.
Where can I buy an umbrella liability policy?
Almost any insurer who writes auto and home insurance policies will also sell umbrella liability policies. In fact, you may be eligible for a multipolicy discount if you purchase an umbrella policy from your current insurer. Of course, it's important to shop around and make sure that you're getting the right coverage for your needs and the most coverage for your money. A good place to start is with your financial advisor to see what they recommend. If you want to do some research on your own, try surfing the Internet, where you can get price quotes and answers to your questions in an instant. You can also talk to a broker and have several policies shopped at once.
The information presented here is not specific to any individual's personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances.
These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.