You’ve Earned It, Now Keep It: Asset Protection 101

Asset protection is a legal strategy used by high net worth individuals to safeguard their wealth and assets from potential risks and liabilities. The goal is to shield assets from creditors, lawsuits, and other threats, while ensuring compliance with the law and maintaining ethical practices. It’s important to note that asset protection should always be done within the bounds of the law and should not involve fraudulent or illegal activities. Here are some common techniques and considerations related to asset protection:

  1. Trusts: Trusts are a widely used tool for asset protection. Irrevocable trusts, in particular, can remove assets from the grantor’s ownership, thus making them more challenging for creditors to reach. Discretionary trusts, where the trustee has discretion over distributions, can also protect assets from creditors.
  2. Limited Liability Entities: High net worth individuals often use limited liability entities, such as limited liability companies (LLCs) and limited partnerships (LPs), to separate personal assets from business liabilities. These entities offer liability protection for the owner’s personal assets.
  3. Homestead Exemptions: In some jurisdictions, homestead exemptions can protect a primary residence from certain creditors. This exemption can vary widely depending on the state or country’s laws.
  4. Insurance Coverage: Adequate insurance coverage, including liability insurance and umbrella policies, can protect high net worth individuals from various risks and claims.
  5. Offshore Asset Protection: Some high net worth individuals utilize offshore trusts and accounts in jurisdictions with strong asset protection laws to shield assets from domestic legal threats.
  6. Pre-marital and Post-marital Agreements: Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements can define how assets will be divided in the event of a divorce, helping to protect individual wealth in case of marital dissolution.
  7. Equity Stripping: This strategy involves reducing the equity in an asset, such as a property, by encumbering it with liens or mortgages, making it less attractive to potential creditors.
  8. Family Limited Partnerships (FLPs): FLPs can be used to transfer wealth to family members while retaining control over the assets. They also offer some level of protection against creditors.
  9. Retirement Accounts and Annuities: Assets held in qualified retirement accounts and certain annuities are often protected from creditors under federal and state laws.
  10. Estate Planning: Proper estate planning can protect assets for future generations, potentially reducing estate taxes and minimizing the risk of family disputes over inherited wealth.
  11. Privacy Measures: Maintaining a low profile and limiting public exposure can be an effective way to deter potential threats and protect personal assets.

It’s essential to start asset protection planning early, as implementing strategies after a legal threat has arisen may be considered fraudulent conveyance and can lead to legal consequences.