Injured workers who settle their claims are increasingly looking to settlement experts to help smooth the process. One of the key players in the equation is the structured settlement broker; the person who helps bring the case to resolution.
But there are many companies and individuals under the umbrella of ‘structured settlement broker,’ and they do not all function alike. It’s important to understand what they do — and what they can do — to ensure the settlement is truly a win-win for all parties, especially the injured worker.
Broker vs. Consultant
Planning a settlement is much more involved and complex than many may think. It requires more than just getting the money to the injured worker. There are many administrative and governmental issues that may need attention. Also, the injured worker may have needs beyond those of the immediate future must be taken into account. This takes a well-thought-out strategy.
The role of a structured settlement broker is evolving. The idea of setting up a transaction, signing the paperwork and then ending the relationship is over. The best companies to handle claims settlements are those that act as consultants to injured workers, understanding their needs and bringing in the best people to handle them.
Each settlement must be customized to fit a specific injured worker. Among the issues that may require involvement by experts are:
- Lien resolution.
- Financial planning.
- Tax consequences.
- Government benefit programs.
- Legal issues.
- Retirement planning.
- Insurance concerns.
- Future college education for children or grandchildren.
The consultant should know various settlement tools that can address these issues. For example, a consultant that works with insurance planners can provide comparative information on insurance products, such as disability or long-term care insurance. Having the benefit of an expert in Medicare Set-Asides available can ensure compliance and reporting issues are addressed, so future benefits are not put at risk.
These experts can be brought into the process early on, so the settlement is set up appropriately. Rather than just running quotes, the structured settlement consultant should act as the general contractor in identifying, bringing and managing the best experts to the table.
The consultant’s services should also be completely fee transparent, and come at no cost to the injured worker.
Examples of Issues and Players
Many circumstances may be overlooked in the settlement process. Working with an experienced structured settlement consultant can reveal and address those, such as:
- Attorney Fee Deferrals. There are many ways to structure attorneys’ fees to allow money to be used in the future. Money deferred can be used for supplemental retirement funds, protection against inflation with cost of living adjustments, and potential avoidance of the Alternative Minimum Tax, for example.
- Calculating realistic future medical costs. A top-notch structured settlement consultant should be able to show comparisons of the current costs of medications and procedures relevant to the injured worker with discounted costs offered through the consultants’ networks.
- Trust funds. Trusts can be a great benefit to manage and protect assets, regardless of the person’s wealth level. Proper planning requires establishing a trustee, identifying beneficiaries, and determining how the assets should be held, invested and distributed. A qualified structured settlement consultant should be able to provide unbundled, transparent and competitive administrative and investment advisory pricing that will ultimately save money for the injured worker.
A successful structured settlement begins with a positive relationship between the injured worker and the consultant. A typical injured worker who is thinking of settling his claim is likely unaware of many issues he will face in the years ahead for which he is not prepared. By working closely and getting to know the injured worker the consultant can proactively identify concerns that may arise over the person’s lifetime.
The consultant and injured worker should work together as a team to find the optimal solutions. Bringing in the consultant as early as possible in the process allows him to become better acquainted with the injured worker and uncover his short- and long-term needs.
Once the settlement is reached, the consultant should ensure there will be someone to continue acting as a support and guide. They should have relationships with professional administrators who work with the injured worker throughout his life, guiding him through the many regulatory and medical mazes he will face.
The expectation for a structured settlement broker is a company that brings value beyond just the transaction itself. It should be a consultant that oversees the entire process, with the injured worker and his needs at its core.
Author Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center .
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