We’ve all had someone tell us at some point, “Don’t take it personally.” Well, if there’s one thing you should take very personally, it’s personal asset protection. People are familiar with estate planning’s protection of assets after they die, but they might not be familiar with what estate planning can do for them while they are alive. 

Especially in these uncertain times, it’s important to know about personal asset protection and do all you can to maximize your legal options and safeguards. Here is a brief overview of what we mean when we say, “personal asset protection.”

The Basic Definition 

Let’s start with the basic definition of personal asset protection, including what does and does not qualify. Asset protection involves strategies and legal tools to guard your wealth from creditors, lawsuits, and similar agents looking to cash in. Asset protection is used by businesses and individuals to limit what their creditors can and can’t take to satisfy a debt. You don’t have to be a millionaire to engage in asset protection—it’s something that is just as suitable for the working class as it is for the 1%.

What Asset Protection is Not

There is no denying that asset protection has gotten somewhat of a bad reputation. Over the years, there have been highly-publicized cases of illegal offshore accounts and shady white-collar dealings. However, those cases are not examples of asset protection: they are crimes. 

Asset protection operates within the bounds of the laws governing creditors and debtors. Concealment, fraudulent transfer, bankruptcy fraud, and contempt are all crimes—they are not legitimate ways to protect your assets, and you should never engage in them. 

Assets to Protect

It is advised that you protect your assets before a claim/liability happens. After a claim or liability happens, it is often too late to protect your assets. Therefore, you must be prepared. Retirement accounts, homesteads, annuities, life insurance, and trusts are all assets that you may be able to protect from creditors in the event of a suit. 

There are many methods of personal asset protection, but three of the most common include: asset protection trusts, family limited partnerships, and accounts-receivable financing. 

Common Methods 

An asset protection trust is subject to complex regulations and requirements. This trust is self-settled. The grantor (you) becomes the beneficiary and can access the trust account funds (your money). If structured correctly, the asset protection trust will not be reachable by creditors. It also offers certain tax savings, depending on your state. 

Secondly, accounts receivable financing involves capital that is principle to a business’s “accounts receivable.” Accounts receivable refers to certain business assets, such as outstanding balances of customer invoices that are due but have not been paid yet. Accounts receivable financing is more suited for a business than an individual, though small businesses owners can certainly take advantage of this flexible funding. 

Thirdly, a family limited partnership is another asset protection tool that is geared towards small businesses. An FLP lets a family pool its money together to run a company. Each member of the family purchases shares of the company, and they profit proportionately to those shares. This has been called a “powerful estate planning tool” for business owners. 

Protecting Your Home 

Though your home is not your only asset, it is perhaps your most valuable. The first way to protect your home from creditors is to take advantage of what is known as a “homestead” exemption. This exemption protects the value of your home from creditors. Forty-eight states have this homeowner protection, though they differ in terms of requirements and amounts. Also, twenty-one of those states require a homeowner to file paperwork to qualify for this exemption (i.e. it’s not automatic). 

Implementation of an equity stripping plan, creation of a domestic asset protection trust, moving the title of your house to the low-risk spouse’s name, and buying umbrella insurance are other options to protecting your home from creditors.  

If this is confusing to you, don’t be alarmed. You can contact an estate planning attorney to talk about your options. Though lawsuits seem like they won’t happen to you, they are remarkably common. America is a litigious society. There are forty million lawsuits filed every year in America. As the time-worn saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

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