A common misconception is that only wealthy families and people in high risk professions need to put together an asset protection plan. But in reality, anyone can be sued. A car accident, foreclosure, unpaid medical bills, or an injured tenant can cause a monetary judgment that will decimate your finances. Below are three tips you can use now to protect your assets from creditors, predators and lawsuits.

What is Asset Protection Planning?

Before getting to the tips, you need to understand what asset protection planning is all about. In basic terms, asset protection planning is the use of legal structures and strategies to transform property that creditors might snatch away into property that is completely, or, at the very least, partially, protected.

Unfortunately, this planning cannot be done as a quick fix for pre-existing legal problems. Instead, you must put an asset protection plan in place before a lawsuit is imminent.  So, now is the time to consider implementing one or more of these tips.

Now, on to the three tips.

Asset Protection Tip #1 – Load Up on Liability Insurance

The first line of defense against liability is insurance, including homeowner’s, automobile, business, professional, malpractice, long-term care and umbrella policies. Liability insurance not only provides a means to pay money damages, it often also includes payment of all or part of the legal fees associated with a lawsuit. If you do not have an umbrella policy, then now is the time to get one since it is relatively inexpensive when compared with more advanced ways to protect your assets. Also check all of your insurance policies to decide if your policy limits are in line with your net worth. Make adjustments, if necessary. Then review all of your policies annually to confirm that the coverage is still adequate. Make sure benefits have not been stripped to keep premiums the same.

Asset Protection Tip #2 – Maximize Contributions to Your 401(k) or IRA

Under federal law, tax-favored retirement accounts, including 401(k)s and IRAs (but excluding inherited IRAs) are protected from creditors in bankruptcy (with certain limitations). Therefore, maximizing contributions to your company’s 401(k) plan is not only a smart way to increase your retirement savings, but it will also keep the investments away from creditors, predators and lawsuits. But if your company does not offer a 401(k) plan, then invest in an IRA for the same reasons.

Asset Protection Tip #3 – Move Rental or Investment Real Estate into an LLC

If you are a landlord or a real estate flipper or investor, then aside from having good liability insurance, moving your real estate into a limited liability company (LLC) can be a great way to help protect your assets from creditors, predators and lawsuits.

There are two types of liability you should be concerned about with rental or investment property: (1) inside liability (where the rental or investment property is the source of the liability, like a slip and fall on the property, and the creditor wants to seize an LLC owner’s personal assets) and (2) outside liability (where the creditor of an LLC owner wants to seize LLC assets to satisfy the owner’s debt).

An LLC will limit your inside liability related to the real estate, such as a slip and fall accident on the front stairs of the property or a fire caused by faulty wiring at the property, to the value of the property. In addition, in many states the outside creditor of the member of an LLC cannot get their hands on the member’s ownership interest in the company (in some states this will only work for multi-member LLCs, while in others it will also work for a single member LLC). This outside creditor protection is often called “charging order” protection. This means that a creditor must look to your liability insurance and any unprotected assets to collect on their claim.

If interested in asset protection planning for your investment real estate using an LLC, then you will need to work with an attorney who understands the LLC laws of the state where your property is located to insure that your LLC will protect you from both inside and outside liability.

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