By Garrett Sutton, Esq.
Asset protection planning defends your assets from future creditors, divorce, lawsuits or judgments. How can you best plan to protect your personal and business assets? Here are some guidelines to implement strong asset protection.
1. Plan Your Asset Protection Strategy BEFORE You’re Sued
Once a lawsuit has arrived, it’s too late to put protections in place and there is little you can do. Take action before a claim or liability arises. In fact, a strong asset protection structure can discourage lawsuits because the better protected your assets are, the stronger a deterrent it is.
2. Keep Your Personal and Business Assets Separate
If you don’t insulate your own assets from those of your business, you could be in trouble. If you operate your business in the form of a sole proprietorship or as a general partnership, these businesses are not registered entities, which means that your personal assets are not insulated from those of your business.
3. It’s Risky to Be A Sole Proprietor
As an example, if you’re a sole proprietor and an angry customer sues you, any assets you own such as your house or car are not protected. Nor are financial assets such as your bank account. These can all be taken should a judgment be found against you.
4. A Two-Man Partnership is Double the Risk
Maybe you have thought about forming two-man partnership with your friend. This may perhaps be an even worse idea than operating as a sole proprietorship. What this means is that you are as liable for your friend’s errors as you are for your own. You are also liable for anything purchased in the name of your partnership. Remember that one partner’s signature is enough to bind both partners to a debt or other type of obligation. Again, this leaves you unprotected and without any recourse should something happen; you could be left holding the bag.
5. Use a Registered Corporate Entity for Asset Protection
To protect yourself, use a registered corporate entity. Most people don’t realize there’s a risk in keeping assets and property in your name, which also means keeping the liability and the risk. To succeed in business, to protect your assets and to limit your liability, you want to select from one of the good entities / structures that are truly separate legal beings. They are:
Each one has it’s own advantages and specific uses. Each one is utilized by the rich and knowledgeable in their business and personal financial affairs. And, depending on your state’s fees, each one can be formed for $800 or less so that you can achieve the same benefits and protections that sophisticated business people have enjoyed for centuries.
6. Meet Annual Requirements so That Legal Protection Remains Intact
You’ll need to keep your company’s registration up-to-date, hold annual meetings and keep annual minutes, keep business funds separate from your own, and avoid signing any business-related documentation in your name. This is known as maintaining the corporate veil and we provide this service to many of our clients. This keeps your own assets separate from those of your business. By the same token, you are also protected from any debts or disasters incurred by your business.
7. Protect Your Business Assets in a Business Entity
You need to protect your business and real estate assets from yourself. A limited liability company is an excellent way to help protect key assets. (Learn how to become incorporated now.) For example, if you have a rental property, you should hold assets either in a limited partnership or in an LLC. These protect you from personal liability if anything should happen on the property and it also provides you another advantage. Should someone become injured on your property, you are protected from being sued directly by the tenant. Remember that the business’s assets are still at risk of suit should the tenant decide to sue. However, if you have adequate insurance, you can help protect yourself from having the claimant lay claim to your assets so as to satisfy your obligation. This strategy comes with a caveat though.
8. Ensure You Have a Comprehensive Commercial Insurance Policy
A comprehensive commercial insurance policy can help you keep the property instead of having it end up as a part of a court-ordered settlement. What should you look for?
- The liability insurance should cover injuries to third parties on your property.
- It should cover trespassing, especially if you have undeveloped or vacant land.
- If you have people working on your property as your employees, you should also have Worker’s Compensation insurance.
- The insurance should also have “increased cost of construction” additions if your building should become damaged or require reconstruction. That means you’ll be covered at today’s construction prices instead of those of previous years.
- If you are a landlord, “loss of rents” riders can help you recover costs in the event your building is damaged and uninhabitable so that you can pay relocation costs or receive income from the property while it’s being rebuilt to offset right losses.
- A final consideration is a “higher limits” rider, so that you have extra protection in the event a catastrophic claim is filed in one of these categories.
9. Use Entities as a Second Line of Defense
It is extremely important to carry adequate and proper insurance coverage, but as we know, insurance companies have an economic incentive to avoid covering all claims. They find reasons to deny coverage. So while you will have insurance you will use entities as a second line of defense to protect your personal assets from your business claims.
10. Avoid Incorporation Scams
You need to know that there are a number of other corporate information scams in the marketplace. A popular one is the $99 incorporation. For just $99, they claim you will be bulletproofed and asset-protected. “C’mon down. We’ll set you right up”, they say.
We have tested such services to see how they could possibly do all the work necessary to completely and properly form and document a corporation or LLC for just $99. These providers fall into two camps.
- The first camp does the minimal work needed to form an entity. They file the articles. That’s it. Once you pay the $99 they will no longer take your phone calls or questions. Eventually you will be sent a document with a state seal on it indicating that you are incorporated.
But you will not be sent the minutes, the bylaws, or any issued stock – all of the other components necessary to be a complete corporation. Of course, if you hadn’t read this article, you would probably think in your blissful ignorance that for just $99 you were protected. You are not.
- The second camp uses the $99 as a come-on. They offer an a la carte menu in which the $99 is just for the filing of the articles. The bylaws are another $350. The meeting minutes are $250, and so on. By the time you are done they have gained your confidence and that $99 has ballooned up to $2,000 to $3,000 for just one entity.