As I was driving to work recently, I noticed a vehicle with a vanity license plate. The license plate clearly identified the owner of the vehicle as a doctor. While there certainly are different types of doctors, I would imagine that the average person presumes a reference to “doctor” is to a medical doctor. Going a step further, I would think the average person assumes that doctors, on the whole, are wealthy people. Take into account the perceived value of a luxury brand vehicle, as was the case here, and the argument that the driver is wealthy becomes even more reasonable.
This brings me to a point that I have discussed with many financial advisors over the years. While there is a wide variety of assets well-suited for funding into a trust, I contend that a client’s personal vehicle is not one of them. Although putting a vehicle in trust while the client is alive can help with a more fluid transfer of ownership upon death, the primary reason I do not recommend putting a personal vehicle into a trust is the exact same reason I do not think it is wise to identity one’s profession on a license plate.
Doing so opens the door for additional claims of liability against the driver or the driver’s estate. If ever a client should want to divert attention away from the size of his or her bank account, it should be when driving a multi-ton vehicle at high rates of speed along crowded streets. Any successful personal injury attorney can attest that car wreck injuries can be subjective, since it may be difficult to show certain injuries, like soft tissue damage for example. Proof of damage in that case often turns more on the feeling of the victim than on medical proof. It could be anticipated that a victim could be “more hurt” if he or she learns the other driver is wealthy.
As we assume doctors are wealthy, there is a misconception that anyone with a trust must also be wealthy. Although I go to great lengths to explain to my clients that a trust has little to do with the amount of their assets and more to do with the relationships they have with their loved ones, the average person tends to believe that trusts are for the wealthy, and having a trust is a sign of wealth.
As discussed above, people who are injured by a wealthy person tend to be more injured than those who are injured by a pauper. Remember that vehicle records are public records. While vanity license plates can be fun and display a person’s interests or passions, and titling a vehicle into a trust can make the transfer easier at death, think about what message these actions send to other drivers. The risk may not be worth the reward.
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