With litigation becoming a fact of life in the U.S., legal experts recommend taking a careful look at safeguarding your assets. Hillel L. Presser, a lawyer specializing in domestic and international asset protection planning and author of Financial Self-Defense says, “Litigation is America’s fastest growing business, and why not? Plaintiffs have everything to gain and nothing but a few hours’ time to lose,” Presser says. “Even if a case seems utterly ridiculous, ldefendants are encouraged to settle just to avoid potentially astronomical legal fees.”
Presser advises seeking the expertise of an asset protection planner, but he also offers these steps you can take on your own.
• Take stock of your wealth. Inventory your assets – you probably own more than you think. Besides savings and retirement accounts, consider any money owed to you, anticipated inheritances and future assets. Property includes homes, vehicles, jewelry, and land. Don’t forget to consider intangible assets – those non-physical but valuable brands, trademarks, patents and intellectual property.
• Put only assets that are exempt from seizure in your name. Federal and state laws protect some personal assets from lawsuits and creditors. Those assets typically include your primary residence; personal items such as furniture and clothing; pensions and retirement funds; and life insurance. State exemption laws vary; federal laws govern exemptions in bankruptcy.
• Protectively title non-exempt assets. Putting the title to valuable assets in the names of corporations, limited partnerships, domestic trusts and other entities offers some protection. You still get to use and enjoy the asset but legal ownership is with an entity that’s not subject to your personal creditors’ claims. Which entities best shield which assets depends on the asset, your state laws, taxation and your estate plan, to name a few considerations. You can also combine protective entities, for instance, giving ownership of your limited liability company to a limited partnership. It’s best to get professional advice.