August 29, 2022

Top Legal Mistakes Dentists Make
Part III

In our previous posts, we looked at some of the top legal mistakes dentists make at the outset of their career and in buying and running their practices.  In this post, we look at some of the top mistakes our attorneys see when dentists are planning their future.

Legal Mistake No. 5: Not Having A Contingency Plan.

Many dentists have a carefully thought-out career plan in mind. Often, dentists buy or start a practice thinking they will work hard and grow it over 20 or 25 years. Then, they can either bring on an associate to handle much of the work or sell the practice and retire. However, life is full of surprises and unexpected circumstances can derail your plan.

For example, although you may intend to work another 20 or more years, your body may have other plans.  A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association noted that dentists are much more susceptible to musculoskeletal disorders than other professions. This is because of the positioning required by dentistry.  If these problems become severe enough, you may not be able to continue safely working.  However, many dentists either do not have disability insurance or do not have enough disability insurance to replace their income in the event they are unable to continue practicing.

Additionally, divorce can have serious consequences for dentists and their practices.  Under Arizona’s community property laws, a dentist’s spouse may be able to claim ownership of part of the practice.  A pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement can be a way to protect your investment in your practice, if it is handled correctly.

Another equally unpleasant possibility is that you might pass away unexpectedly.  You may have life insurance, but do you have enough for your family?  Additionally, what will happen to your practice if you are not there to operate it? What will happen to your children if you and your spouse both pass away? How will your survivors be able to access your assets?  Will they have to go through an extended probate process? These are all questions that are important to answer before the unexpected happens.


No one can predict the future or avoid every potential calamity in life.  However, by working with a group of advisors, including insurance experts, financial advisors, and legal professionals, you can mitigate the consequences of these calamities.

Legal Mistake No. 6: Failing To Plan Your Succession

Even if the unforeseen doesn’t happen, many dentists are still unprepared for leaving dentistry on their own terms.  The best way of planning for this really depends on how you want to wind down your career.  If you are an associate dentist or an independent contractor in a practice, this can be as easy as consulting with your financial advisor to ensure you are financially ready to retire, and then just choosing an end date.  If you own your own practice or are a partner in a practice, though, this can be complicated.

Often, you can’t really just decide to sell your practice one day and be done the next.  Many practice buyers will want the seller to stay on, often for months, to help with the transition.  If you are selling to a DSO, the buyer may want you to stay on for years as an associate dentist.  In fact, many DSO contracts we see often pay only a portion of the total sales price up front.  The remainder is paid out in annual installments, but only if the practice hits certain targets.  Therefore, if you are selling to a DSO, you might find yourself working longer and harder than ever before after the sale in order to hit those targets.

If you are a partner in a multi-dentist practice, you may have other restrictions.  For example, you may have to provide your partners with a right of first refusal.  If your partners do not approve of a potential buyer, they also may have veto power over the buyer.  If you are in a partnership, you should consult with an attorney who understands dental partnerships to know what your rights are before you tell your partners that you plan to leave.


Planning early and consulting with the right professionals before you decide to retire is often essential.  If you do not, you could find that you are stuck practicing longer than you wanted to, or else facing significant monetary penalties.


This post is for informative purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with a licensed attorney. It provides general information and a general understanding of the law.  However, this post does not provide specific legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created by the posting of this information.  If you have specific legal questions after reading this post, you should contact a licensed attorney.