Asset protection planning involves making prudent decisions today to protect yourself, your business, and your hard-earned assets from loss due to lawsuits, creditors or bankruptcies. Asset protection planning is especially prudent for professionals and business owners, whose personal assets could be at risk due the nature of their employment.
Statistically and anecdotally, we all know that the number of divorces, lawsuits and bankruptcies is staggering. While no one believes lightning will strike them, wealth created through a lifetime of work, saving and investing can be lost overnight if these forms of man-made lightning do strike. To protect your assets from such disaster, proper risk management strategies should be given careful consideration. These strategies include exempting your assets from the claims of creditors, limiting your liability through legal entities, and transferring your risk through insurance.
Not all family businesses are traditional small businesses either. In fact, roughly one-third of all businesses included in the Fortune 500 are family businesses. But not all of the family business statistics are rosy.
Family businesses tend not to outlive their founders. At any given moment, 40 percent of family businesses are in the process of transferring their ownership. Unfortunately, two-thirds of all initial transfers fail. Of the one-third that survives an initial transfer, only one-half will survive a second transfer. It is estimated that by 2040 about $10.4 trillion in family business owner net worth will be transferred.
State and federal laws exempt some of your assets from the claims of creditors. Important to note is that while some states allow you to choose either the state or federal exemptions, in others you must use the state exemptions … and federal bankruptcy exemptions are not available.
Once you have identified the protected asset classes available to you under applicable law, it may be prudent to maximize your protection by converting non-exempt assets into exempt assets.
Many entrepreneurs operate their businesses as sole proprietors rather than through a legal entity, such as a Corporation or a Limited Liability Company. Whether their business is home-based or in the Fortune 500, these business owners are attracted by the informality of sole proprietorship. They also do not want to incur legal fees to create and maintain a legal entity. However, in addition to other advantages, conducting business through a legal entity may offer substantial risk management benefits.
While lawsuits brought against a sole proprietorship are really lawsuits against the owner’s personal assets, lawsuits against a properly created and maintained legal entity are really lawsuits against the entity’s assets. Nevertheless, the selection of an appropriate legal entity is critical for managing your risk.
When was the last time you reviewed the details of your liability insurance program with your insurance professionals? Are your policies current? Are the coverage limits adequate and are the deductibles reasonable? Have you scrutinized the policies for loopholes? Remember: the fundamental philosophy of any insurance coverage is to pay a premium you can afford to transfer a risk you cannot afford. During your asset protection planning, take time to understand both the risks you have retained and the risks you have transferred.