Why You Should Have Umbrella Liability Insurance

This inexpensive coverage can protect property owners from lawsuits.

I already have $400,000 in liability coverage on my auto-insurance policy. How do I determine whether I need to add an umbrella liability insurance policy to my coverage? How much would an umbrella policy cost?

Umbrella liability insurance is an inexpensive way to protect you and your property from lawsuits. You don’t need it if you have relatively little at stake, but “if you’ve accumulated some assets and have a home, it makes sense to have the policy,” says Rob Seltzer, a CPA in Los Angeles. He recommends that you add an umbrella policy, which starts at $1 million of coverage, to protect against lawsuits even if your net worth is far less than that. The policies protect future income as well as assets and also cover legal fees.

CALCULATOR: How Much Umbrella Insurance Do I Need?

Insurers generally require that you have at least $300,000 in liability coverage on your home and automobile before you can buy umbrella coverage, which picks up after you’ve exhausted your homeowners and auto liability limits. The first $1 million of coverage generally costs $200 to $400 a year; the next $1 million runs an additional $75 to $100.

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Raising your auto and homeowners deductibles from, say, $250 to $1,000 would offset the cost of $1 million in umbrella coverage, says Seltzer. “If you are in a car accident and have to come up with an extra $750 for the deductible, that’s not going to kill you. But if something really bad happens, that $1 million umbrella policy is a savior.”

To buy the coverage, start with your auto- or homeowners-insurance company, which may give you a discount for keeping your business in-house. If your company doesn’t offer affordable umbrella coverage, ask an independent insurance agent for quotes.

Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.