Black Friday, for a lot of people, is a day to score great deals, and it has been practically a holiday itself since the 1980s. The American Philatelist was the first magazine to use the term “Black Friday,” coining it in reference to dealing with the additional hours, extra long shifts, and traffic. The term was, at the time, negative, but it has since become standard for anyone talking about the day after Thanksgiving. It’s the busiest shopping day of the year.
The Black Friday we’re talking about is somewhat of a “Reverse Black Friday.” Instead of assets that you’re going to buy, this article is about assets you already own and want to protect from possible sources of liability. This article will serve as a guide to the different ways you can do that.
Source of Liability
There are many more sources of liability than those listed below, and there is only a brief definition provided for those listed. However, these are some of the most common: lawsuits, underinsurance or no insurance, divorce, callable loans, and debt. These can all result in your assets being taken from you—no matter how precious.
You might think of a lawsuit as only something that happens to you when you do something wrong, but that’s not always the case. America is a very litigious society. Each year, over 40 million lawsuits are filed in the U.S. Businesses can be subject to employment discrimination, worker’s compensation, malpractice, breach of contract, and other lawsuits that can cost you, if not in judgment, in legal fees.
Uninsured or Underinsured
If you’re in an auto accident and you don’t have insurance (or you don’t have enough insurance), a lawsuit can go after your assets. States do have minimum liability requirements, but juries aren’t exactly opposed to handing out millions of dollars in awards.
Your ex-spouse knows more about your finances than most creditors, and a divorce can hit you where it hurts, especially since you cannot usually discharge back child support or alimony in the case of bankruptcy. Things get even trickier if you and your ex own a business together—especially if the divorce is acrimonious.
Lenders, in certain cases, can “call” a loan and demand you pay it back immediately. If you have the means, you can refinance the debt and hope that works. If not, your assets are going to be the first to go as a way to avoid bankruptcy.
Though federal law puts a limit on liability from the debt that is secured by your home, there are no restrictions like that on commercial loans. If you fall behind on your mortgage (one of the most common debt problems), commercial foreclosure can put other assets at risk; that is, unless you take steps before to contain the fallout.
Asset Protection from Liability
The above list has just some of the many sources of liability that can come as a shock. Below are some “Reverse Black Friday” ways to protect what you already own from people coming to collect, including use of business entities, insurance, retirement accounts, homestead exemptions, titling, annuities, and elimination.
Business entity types (such as sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs, and more) are a double-edged sword. For example, there is no limit to personal liability if you own a sole proprietorship. A partnership can leave you liable for your partner’s actions, even if you do nothing wrong.
Business entity types that can limit liability include LLCs—limited liability companies—and corporations. In some cases, a lawsuit can pierce the veil of this protection, but these types of business structures are generally very protective.
You’ve heard it a million times—get insurance, and make sure you get the best type of insurance you can afford. If you can afford umbrella coverage, get it. Do not bet on the odds of something not happening. Homeowner’s insurance, commercial liability insurance, auto insurance, long term care insurance, and more are just some of the many ways you can safeguard yourself. Pay now or pay later.
If you have an ERISA-qualified retirement plan, federal law provides you with unlimited asset protection. If you have an IRA, you are protected for up to $1 million if you go bankrupt. Some states have even more protection, though others have less because they opted out of the Bankruptcy Reform Act. Retirement accounts offer at least some asset protection.
Florida is a state that provides a certain amount in home equity if you go bankrupt. You might have to contribute extra to your mortgage payments, but it is worth it, as taking advantage of the homestead exemption is a must-do.
How is your home titled? For example, owning the home as tenants in the entirety with your spouse means that, if one of you gets sued, the creditors cannot force your spouse to sell their interest. The interest isn’t divisible—your home may be protected if your state doesn’t have a sufficient homestead exemption.
Some states, including Florida, provide protection to assets in cash value life insurance and annuity balances. Florida statute §222.14 protects annuities and their proceeds from creditors. If you don’t have a life insurance policy, annuities protection is a good reason to get one.
Last but not least, creditors cannot take what you don’t have. Consider transferring title of the asset to someone else—an heir, for example. You can give away (as of 2020) up to $15,000 in gifts without getting taxed.
This short guide should prove that there is hope for asset protection, but you need to act now before anything has happened (or could happen). The best time to protect your assets is before the source of liability strikes—after that, it is often too late.
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