People are increasingly using the legal system to unjustly deprive others of their life's work. Millions of new lawsuits are filed in the United States every year, many of which are frivolous or settled for sums greater than the actual liability.
Business owners, professionals such as doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants, and property owners in particular should be aware of the risks associated with conducting their business, practicing in their respective fields, and taking responsibility for others.
Without a massive overhaul of our legal system, the risk and potential liability is not going to decline. In fact, it has steadily increased over the past few decades. Assets can be at risk due to a number of vulnerabilities, including:
- Professional malpractice liability
- Personal liability of corporate officers and directors
- Lawsuits by former business partners
- Personal injury suffered on your premises
- Personal injury resulting from a motor vehicle accident
- Liability as guarantor for the debts of another
- Liability arising from misconduct
Our law firm assists professionals, small business owners, property owners, and other clients in establishing proven, legally sound asset protection strategies to safeguard assets against potential litigation, judgments, liens, and fraud.
Insurance alone does not always adequately protect against all of these threats. We help clients protect their wealth using a variety of strategies including the use of special trusts, business entities and other legal arrangements.
Shielding Assets from Creditors
Our firm has expertise in assisting clients with the arrangement of their finances, real property and other assets in a manner that minimizes their exposure to potential creditors. We are well versed in establishing trusts, determining insurance needs, creating estate plans and organizing investments and business entities so that our clients are able to enjoy the highest level of confidence in terms of the security of their accumulated assets.
A creditor who initiates litigation against a person who has placed his or her assets into a trust, a foundation, or other entity may find that there are very few collectible assets actually owned by the person they wish to sue. Assets owned by a properly structured trust, foundation, or other entity are generally not subject to claims against their beneficiaries. In addition, placing assets into an asset protection entity may have the additional benefit of removing those assets from a person’s taxable estate.
We know how to evaluate current client holdings and work with our clients to identify the best ways to legally protect those holdings from a variety of creditors, whether through civil suits involving negligence or malpractice.
Our firm has a solid working knowledge of:
- Domestic and offshore trusts
- Domestic and offshore and domestic business entity formation
- Exempt asset protections under state law
- Negotiation and preparation of pre and post-marital agreements
The exact strategies employed by our firm may vary depending on the client, the nature of the assets, the country of origin, and the tax regulations that apply to those assets. The ultimate goal is to effectively protect assets in a manner that is effective, legal and ethical.
Advanced Estate Planning
Estate Planning for High Net Worth Individuals
You've worked hard your whole life to provide for your family and make your loved ones more secure. Without advanced estate planning strategies, many of your hard earned assets may end up with the IRS and state taxing authorities.
Our firm regularly assists affluent families with such sophisticated planning strategies as Family Limited Partnerships or Limited Liability Companies, Personal Residence Trusts, Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts and a wide range of charitable gifting techniques to reduce federal estate taxes, gift taxes and generation skipping transfer taxes.
Family Limited Partnerships
A Family Limited Partnership (FLP) is a limited partnership among members of a family. The main advantages of forming and funding an FLP involve estate and gift tax savings and asset protection. An FLP also allows you to retain control over the transferred assets while enjoying these advantages.
Once the FLP is established and your assets are transferred to it, you can make gifts of limited partnership interests to your children or other beneficiaries. This accomplishes several different estate planning objectives simultaneously.
First, the value of each limited partnership interest which you give away decreases the value of your taxable estate and, consequently, any tax which your heirs would have to pay upon your death. The gifts are made using the annual gift tax exclusion, so depending on its value, you may not have to pay any gift tax on the transfer.
Second, the value of the partnership interests transferred to your beneficiaries is far less than the corresponding value of the assets in the partnership. Since limited partners do not have the ability to direct or control the day-to-day operation of the partnership, a minority discount can be applied to reduce the value of the limited partnership interests which you are gifting. Furthermore, because the partnership is a closely-held entity and not publicly-traded, a discount can be applied based upon the lack of marketability of the limited partnership interest. This allows you to leverage the FLP as a vehicle to transfer more wealth to your beneficiaries, while retaining control of the underlying assets. Lastly, a properly-structured FLP can have creditor protection characteristics since the general partners are not obligated to distribute earnings of the partnership.
Qualified Personal Residence Trusts
Our homes are often our most valuable assets and hence one of the largest components of our taxable estates. A Qualified Personal Residence Trust or a QPRT (pronounced “cue-pert”) allows you to give away your house or vacation home at a great discount, freeze its value for estate tax purposes, and still continue to live in it. Here is how it works: You transfer the title to your house to the QPRT (usually for the benefit of your family members), reserving the right to live in the house for a specified number of years. If you live to the end of the specified period, the house (as well as any appreciation in its value since the transfer) passes to your children or other beneficiaries free of any additional estate or gift taxes. After the end of the specified period, you may continue to live in the home but you must pay rent to your family or designated beneficiary in order to avoid inclusion of the residence in your estate. This may be an added benefit as it serves to further reduce the value of your taxable estate, though the rent income does have income tax consequences for your family. If you die before the end of the period, the full value of the house will be included in your estate for estate tax purposes, though in most cases you are no worse off than you would have been had you not established a QPRT. An added benefit of the QPRT is that it also serves as an excellent asset/creditor protection vehicle since you no longer technically own the property once the trust is established and your residence is transferred to the QPRT.
Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts
There is a common misconception that life insurance proceeds are not subject to Federal Estate Taxes. While the proceeds are received by your loved ones free of any income taxes, they are countable as part of your taxable estate and therefore your loved ones can lose as much as half of the policy’s value to estate taxes.
An Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) is created specifically for the purpose of owning your life insurance policy. A properly established and administered trust holds the policy outside of your estate and keeps the proceeds from being taxable to your estate. The proceeds from the insurance policy can then be used to provide your estate with the liquidity to pay estate taxes, pay off debts, pay final expenses and provide income to a surviving spouse or children. The ILIT will be the policy owner and beneficiary. Once your trust is established, you can use your annual gift tax exclusion to make cash gifts to your trust. Your beneficiaries forgo the present gift (in lieu of the future proceeds) and the trustee uses the remaining gift to pay the premium on the life insurance policy.
There are many options available when setting up an ILIT. For example, ILITs can be structured to provide income to a surviving spouse with the remainder going to your children from a previous marriage. You can also provide for distribution of a limited amount of the insurance proceeds over a period of time to a financially irresponsible child.
Our firm is dedicated to helping clients make educated, informed decisions about their assets and will work with you and your team of financial advisors and CPAs to implement a highly sophisticated and effective estate plan that allows for the maximum transfer of assets to your loved ones.