You have worked hard to accumulate your fortune. You now need to protect it. Working with an estate planning attorney can help you do so. Asset protection consists of measures taken to change the form of asset ownership or the location of the assets. If you have a high net worth, you will always be a target for litigation—legitimate or otherwise. Creating legal structures that distance you from your assets or that limit your liability for any venture can make it impossible for creditors or a plaintiff to get a hold of your money and property.
Why You Need an Asset Protection Attorney
Protecting your assets is not only about you; it is about your ability to pass on what you have earned to your loved ones. To protect your capital, you must work with an attorney who can analyze and assess the laws of various jurisdictions in order to determine the best place to relocate your assets. The attorney you hire can also formulate legal structures that transfer control of your assets to another person but retains your ownership of them.
It takes extensive research, careful analysis, and fastidious language to establish asset protection measures that are completely legal. The latter is essential. It will do you no good to avoid the reach of your creditors only to fall into the hands of federal and state prosecutors. Asset protection attorneys are the only professionals qualified to give you sound legal advice, and they are the only ones experienced enough to create the legal documents and structures you need.
The Assets You Want to Protect
There are many assets that you may want to shield from creditors and lawsuit litigants. An estate planning attorney can provide you with legal cover most of them. The 3 most important assets to defend are:
In most states, your home is protected from creditors under homestead exemptions. However, you may have more than one home, or you may be invested in a business with large real estate holdings. Your lawyer can devise strategies to prevent the seizure of all such capital.
Creditors and judgement holders will go after your bank accounts. The only way to keep your money out of their hands is to move it into another legal instrument. Your lawyer may be able to come up with a way to turn your liquid assets, which are easy to track and seize, into hard assets, which are more difficult to get a hold of.
Some states have statutory protections for retirement assets. However, it is still possible for creditors to get to them, especially if you have filed for bankruptcy. Your estate planning lawyer can formulate a strategy that protects as much of your hard-earned retirement money as possible.
3 Ways to Protect Your Assets
As was mentioned before, good strategy is at the heart of asset protection. There is no one way to shield your assets against creditors or a legal judgement. Your lawyer will have to look hard at the specifics of your finances and at your legal circumstances to determine the best steps to take.
Limited liability companies
It may be best to create a limited liability corporation. If your business has run into financial difficulties and you are being pursued by numerous creditors, an LLC can be a great way to keep your personal fortune out of their hands. With an LLC your liability will extend only to what the company owns. You will not be responsible for anything beyond that. Your lawyer may advise you to create multiple LLCs to further minimize risk to your assets.
You can also create trust. In a trust, you, as the trustor, will hand control over your assets to a trustee. The trustee is then empowered to distribute funds to a beneficiary named by you. If you set up a revocable trust, you get to change the amount of money distributed by the trust. You can also change the trustees and beneficiaries at will.
Trusts can be established onshore or offshore. The latter are more expensive to set up. However, it may be worth paying the extra money to protect your larger fortune. The biggest advantage of a trust is that it creates legal distance between you and your money.
If you live in a state with statutory protections for some accounts, your lawyer may advise you to move your assets into them. Retirement accounts and some annuities and life insurance policies fall into this category. You can also sign over property to your spouse or adult children or hold it jointly with them.
The bottom line is that there is no easy and simple way to protect your assets. And if you accumulated a large fortune and run multiple businesses, you may need to take a variety of measures to protect your money, property, and investment holdings from creditors and litigants. An asset protection attorney has the insight, knowledge, and experience to help you. If you have good reason to believe that what you have worked for is under threat, you should contact an experienced asset protection attorney.