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My new "breathalyzer" measuring the alcohol content in my blood stream has been instructive over the past few months as I have been conducting experiments on my metabolism. What prompted me to pop for $60 on this drugstore gadget was the story of the San Francisco socialite who had had two glasses of wine with dinner. Then, as bad luck would have it, she was stopped in one of those random checkpoints. The police impounded her car and she spent the night in jail.

Some of her problem, it turns out, was that she was part of the crowd that believes "you can't be too thin or too rich." The chart that comes with your driver's license renewal illustrates the extent to which less body weight can be a handicap in regard to one's safe capacity for alcohol. Be that as it may, for whatever reason you might be at 0.08 blood alcohol content or above, you're through driving for awhile if the police are conducting the test.

Coincidentally, I had also recently attended a seminar conducted by an Orange County lawyer named Harry Barth. His firm specializes in the craft of protecting business assets and his examples of assets and businesses wiped out included people who had accidents while over the legal blood alcohol limit.

Surprisingly little alcohol -- what many people would make the mistake of considering safe -- is all it takes to have a measured content of 0.08 percent. Probably 50 percent of people leaving a restaurant are at that level or higher. If that's what the breathalyzer reads when you're stopped, you're staring at a lot of unpleasantness that can include loss of license, picking up trash in one of those freeway crews and huge future expenses for auto and life insurance.

The woman in the example above was incredulous at the time she was arrested. She later conducted the experiment with her lawyer using what had become her own new breathalyzer. Sure enough. Two glasses of wine and a meal had her over the limit, and the result proved that the police had been right.

Where are we going with all this? Well, the good life enjoyed by many retired people tends to include inebriants in moderation. What creates the financial wherewithal for a pleasant, secure retirement needs to be protected. If an auto accident is serious enough, it can wipe out a lifetime of savings. Even plenty of automobile insurance backed up by an umbrella policy might not be enough to meet the demands of what the courts award to badly injured plaintiffs. My insurance agent assures me that automobile insurance and umbrella policies will cover even if the insured is legally intoxicated, but a jury would be less forgiving when awarding damages in the case of someone who had been drinking.

What we know about asset protection is that it is difficult to create something completely air-tight. A company retirement account like a 401(k) is protected from judgments and creditors, but once the money has rolled into an IRA, the protection is not so certain. Money rolled into an Individual Retirement Account is protected only after you've lost everything else in personal bankruptcy. While seemingly counterintuitive, anything short of complete bankruptcy leaves IRA money exposed to creditors. It's the only reason I can think of for leaving retirement money back at a former employer's plan rather than rolling it into an IRA.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving years ago effectively ended what was a "look-the-other-way" approach on the part of officials, and reduced the definition of illegal intoxication to what it is today. That has been a major contribution to society and to highway safety.

The point I wish to make is that the bar has been lowered to a point at which the legal level could take some reasonable people by surprise. Consider spending a few bucks to check your breath. A slightly hefty dinner guest and neighbor checked his breath at the end of an evening recently and was aghast to find that he was at 0.12 percent. Getting a handle on what's safe for each of us is wise for many reasons, not the least of which is asset protection. Sometimes selfish interests prompt the most productive changes in behavior.