It is perhaps cliché to say that life is made up of the decisions you make. But, overused maxims tend to communicate common truths, hence their ubiquity. Decision-making is mainly about choosing one of two or more options to achieve the most desirable outcome. Some decisions are straightforward and obvious. Many are not. Still more are tied up in the tension between what we want to do and what we should do. Values, discernment, and even willpower all factor into the process.
Decisions about money are among the most consequential. It therefore reasons that decisions involving large sums of money are highly consequential. Injury settlements are a prime example of how poor decision-making can produce unfortunate, even disastrous outcomes for both the injured and their families. Really no different than the lottery winner whose sudden wealth turns into debt and insolvency within a brief period, so the injured person who receives a cash settlement of any size is often just as unprepared and soon makes decisions that cannot be undone. Money, once spent, cannot be unspent.
“Where There Is No Vision, the People Perish”
Many people have very good intentions from the outset, but good intentions are not enough. General goals without specific plans to reach those goals will usually fall short. So, what are the missing plans that can cause settlement funds mismanagement?
- a plan to get the most value out of every dollar spent
- a plan to use the money for what it was intended
- a plan to ensure the funds are insulated from poor decision-making
This type of planning helps set priorities and leads to the details needed to help the plan succeed. It is really no different than the priorities considered in good personal finance planning. Some settlement beneficiaries get this, but many do not. That’s because this is a problem common to almost all of us. Most of us do not fund our retirements as we should, do not save as we should, and often do not limit our spending as we should. Any bonuses we receive evaporate quickly. We live up to our means and, some how, when we receive a raise, we then live up to that new limit again. And for individuals with injuries who may not be able to work or whose treatment costs exceed expected costs over their lifetime, mismanagement of a fixed settlement amount will likely result in considerable hardship for the injured and their family.
The Advantages of a Professional Custodian
Once one considers how important it is to have a detailed plan for competent management of settlement funds, the use of a professional custodian begins to make a lot of sense. Vesting a professional custodian with the responsibility for settlement funds decisions addresses the major problems created by the introduction of a large sum of money into an injured person’s finances.
We’ll look at the advantages of a professional custodian, but first, let’s consider the major factors that often negatively affect the decision-making process for a beneficiary handling their own funds:
- Lack of Expertise – Inability to seek or negotiate for the best price on products and services due to a lack of knowledge about fee schedules, rates, coordination of benefits, medical billing department practices and policies, and negotiation.
- Dependence on Willpower – Decisions are at the mercy of the beneficiary’s self-control.
- Outside Influences – Life circumstances, or the needs or even manipulation of family members or friends creates pressure to spend imprudently.
Again, these are pitfalls relatively common to all of us. It is easy for emotion and even rationalization to play into spending decisions. This is why there is certainly wisdom in building a wall around all or at least portions of a settlement to protect the funds and beneficiary alike.
Consider how a professional custodian’s decision-making process addresses the issues we’ve discussed:
- Professional Expertise – Knowledge and experience in reviewing and repricing claims down to applicable fee schedules, and negotiating reductions in claims where possible.
- Limited by Agreement – Discretion in spending decisions is limited by agreement. The custodian is not permitted to use the funds in any fashion not explicitly contemplated by the contract. Emotionality is factored out of the decision-making process.
- Contingency Planning – In the event of specific circumstances, special exceptions can be planned for and facilitated.
Custodial Arrangements: Not just for Medicare Set-Asides
Medicare set-aside accounts, which are created as mechanisms to comply with federal law by protecting Medicare from paying when it should not, and which contain funds specifically limited to the Medicare allowable and injury-related expenses, are commonly administered by a professional custodian (or “professional administrator”). But, other settlement funds should be placed with a professional custodian as well. It’s also worth mentioning that the best way to ensure that settlement funds are used according to the dictates of a settlement is to place those funds with a third party that is bound to comply with the terms that establish their custodianship.
At Medivest, we frequently receive calls from beneficiaries who are interested in seeking some flexibility in how their professionally administered funds are spent. The most common reason for this request is that they have already spent their remaining settlement funds and the monies under our company’s charge are all that remain. It is not difficult in those circumstances to surmise what would have happened with those custodial funds had we not been “in the picture.”
As example has shown time and again, managing large sums of money is not a simple task, and requires proper planning ahead of time to prevent problems down the road. In each settlement, it makes sense to consider using a professional custodian if concerns about fund mismanagement are warranted. Medivest has been providing custodial services to injured beneficiaries for over twenty years. We’ve helped thousands of individuals spend their settlement funds in a strategic and prudent manner in order to help stretch those funds to their benefit and the benefit of their families. If you have questions about how to integrate a custodial arrangement into a settlement, please do not hesitate to contact us.