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Asset Protection Attorney: Learn the Ways to Safeguard Assets From Liabilities by Asset Protection

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Asset protection is one of the primary purposes for creating a limited liability company ("LLC"). LLCs provide two types of asset protection: (1) protecting the members from the liabilities of the company (sometimes called protection from "inside liabilities") and (2) protecting the assets of the LLC from the liabilities of the members (sometimes called protection from "outside liabilities").

If an LLC owns a rental house and the tenant sues the LLC because they slipped and fell down the stairs, this is an example of an inside liability. The general rule is that the tenant can sue the LLC, but they cannot go after the assets of the members unless they can pierce the corporate veil of the LLC. Piercing the corporate veil is very difficult to do. The test for a piercing of the corporate veil may vary slightly from state to state, but generally the tenant must prove that the LLC is the alter-ego of the member, and that the member has not treated the LLC as a separate and distinct legal entity. Because the laws protecting the members from an inside liability are similar in every state, the asset protection against inside liabilities is similar regardless of where the LLC is filed.

If a member is a physician and is sued for malpractice, the creditor may attempt to go after the assets of the LLC in order to collect on the judgment. This is an example of an outside liability because a creditor of a member is seeking to get into the LLC through the member. The remedies available to a creditor of a member vary greatly from state to state. In some states, the creditor of a member has a right to foreclose on the members interest and become the owner of it. In other states, the creditor of a member is limited to a charging order. A charging order is a court order which requires the LLC to pay any distributions that otherwise would have been paid to the member directly to the creditor. A charging order is not a good remedy for a creditor because the creditor is only entitled to distributions if the LLC decides to make a distribution; a creditor cannot force a distribution to be made. Therefore, an LLC offers greater asset protection if it is governed by the laws of a jurisdiction that strictly limits the remedies of a creditor.

Most if not all states follow the "internal affairs doctrine" established by the United States Supreme Court. This doctrine says that the internal affairs of a company are governed by the laws of the state where the company is filed, not the laws where the business activities take place or where the members are located. In fact, most states have a statutory provision stating that the internal affairs of an LLC are governed by the laws of the jurisdiction where the LLC was filed. This means that if an LLC is filed in Alaska and a California resident sues another California resident who is a member of the Alaska LLC for a tort committed in California, the issue as to whether the creditor can get information or assets from the LLC is governed by the laws of Alaska and not the laws of California. In other words, the state where an LLC is filed is critical in determining the asset protection provided by the LLC from outside liabilities.

Another issue affecting the asset protection provided by an LLC is confidentiality. In some states, the members and managers of an LLC are required to be disclosed and included in the state records which are available to the public. In other states, the members and managers are not made a part of the public record. Many people feel that they have better asset protection if the identity of the members and managers are not made public.

Having studied the laws of every state in this regard, and having read many scholarly articles on the subject, it is my opinion that Alaska provides the strongest asset protection against outside liabilities because they not only limit the remedies of a creditor of a member to a charging order, but they also prohibit a creditor from obtaining a court order for inquiries, accountings or directions (see Alaska Statutes 10.50.380). Several other states expressly limit the remedies of a creditor to a charging order, which should also be sufficient to prevent a creditor of a member from collecting from an LLC.

When it comes to confidentiality, I believe that the New Mexico LLC is the best option because there is no public disclosure of members and managers and no requirement for the filing of an annual report.

Nevis is a country in the Caribbean that has the best LLC laws in the world. Nevis LLCs offer the strongest asset protection and confidentiality of any jurisdiction. Nevis LLCs can be created and maintained without excessive cost or complexity. Any business or assets can be owned by a Nevis LLC, wherever it is located. If you want the strongest asset protection available, I recommend a Nevis LLC.

If you want the best LLC within the United States, I feel that Alaska is the best option for asset protection purposes and New Mexico is the best for confidentiality of managers and members. Alaska has a convenient online filing system, but New Mexico has lower filing fees and zero annual renewal fees. In conclusion, it is important to note that the laws described in this article are apt to change from time to time. This article is provided for informational purposes and should not be used as legal advice for any specific situation. Readers are advised to seek competent legal counsel in designing and creating limited liability companies or engaging in asset protection planning.

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Asset Protection Attorney: Information Security Policies: Foundations of Asset Protection

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These potential scenarios should concern any entrepreneur or investor: You get sued personally and lose; the judgment creditor (the entity that won the suit and was awarded a judgment against you) decides to go after your business and investment assets. Or you have a retail store plus several real estate investments; you get sued for something related to the store and the judgment creditor decides to attach your real estate. You can cry, "Unfair!" all day long and it won't matter if you haven't taken the appropriate asset protection steps.

An asset protection tool you need to understand is the charging order. By definition, a charging order is an order issued by a court to a judgment creditor which essentially compels an entity of which the debtor is a partner or member to direct to the creditor until the judgment is satisfied any distributions that would otherwise have been made to the debtor (from Asset Protection: Concepts & Strategies for Protecting Your Wealth by Jay Adkisson and Christopher M. Riser, McGraw-Hill, 2004).

What this means is that if you have an interest in a Charging Order Protected Entity (COPE) [entities for which creditors are limited to using charging orders as remedies in collecting debt, such as a Limited Partnership (LP), a Limited Liability Company (LLC), and certain others] and a creditor obtains a charging order, the entity is ordered to pay the creditor any money that would have gone to you until the judgment is paid in full. In most states, the creditor has no rights with respect to the ownership or management of the entity and cannot force the entity to make a distribution. The idea is to balance the rights of creditors with those of the non-debtor partners.

Charging orders do not come into play with assets such as stock in a corporation or personal property. But in an entity such as an LLC, legislators have taken steps to prevent creditors from attaching partnership or membership interests and essentially becoming partners or members themselves because such a change in ownership could disrupt the operations of the entity. Where you are not protected by state law, discuss this issue with your attorney because you may be able to create a comparable level of protection through your operating agreement.

How you are protected

As long as the creditor has the charging order, the LLC can simply not make any distributions and the creditor should not receive any money. For example, let's say a visitor to your home slipped on the sidewalk, sued you, and won. As a judgment creditor, he decides to go after all of your assets and gets a charging order against the LLC that owns your real estate investments. He typically can't collect anything until the LLC makes a distribution, and you and the other members of the LLC are perfectly within your rights to decide to not make any distributions for as long as you like. Because of this, creditors with charging orders are often willing to negotiate a settlement to get at least a portion of their money and be done with the situation.

Another issue that often prompts judgment creditors to settle charging orders quickly is the potential for tax liability. If the creditor is entitled to the distribution when it is made, he may also be obligated to pay the taxes. It's possible for the members of the LLC to issue a K-1, which is the tax form used to report a member's share of an LLC's income, potentially making the creditor liable for taxes on profits even though he hasn't received any money.

As of January 2007, there were no known cases where the IRS has held a judgment creditor holding a charging order liable for taxes--but nor are there any cases where the IRS has specifically relieved a judgment creditor of such liability. Until case law becomes definitive on the issue, creditors may be reluctant to take a chance that they could be held liable for taxes on profits they haven't received and may never receive.

The protection offered by charging orders may be circumvented in a number of ways, depending on the state in which the entity operates and your individual circumstances.

Be aware that simply forming a partnership or LLC is not going to automatically protect your assets. Charging order protected entities are some of the strongest and most acceptable asset protection tools available, but to be effective, they must be properly structured and carefully drafted according to your particular requirements and the laws of your state.

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