The Trust Lawyers Blog

An Asset Protection Trust Is Like An Insurance Policy For Your Wealth

Posted by Dave DePinto on Thu, Mar 22, 2012

If you're concerned with protecting your assets against possible legal claims against them, there are a wide variety of sophisticated financial tools available to help with this. One of the most controversial, yet often highly effective, examples of these is the asset protection trust. That term can be applied to a wide variety of trust structures, but generally refers to self-created trusts meant to shield your assets by placing them under the control of a trust located in a state with favorable protection laws, such as Nevada or Delaware.

In general, they work much like any other trust. You – the settlor – take your assets and place them under the control of a trust, using a situs trustee in that state. Often with these asset protection trusts, there is also a designated protector you select who has power over what the trustee does with your assets.

One unique aspect of them, which often makes them preferable to other estate planning trusts,is that in many cases the settlor can also be a beneficiary. In some cases, it's even possible for you and/or your spouse to form a Limited Liability Company and exert some level of control over the assets, while still being legally shielded.

Properly set up, they can make it extremely difficult for a debtor, divorcing spouse, or other legal claimant to gain access to any of your assets. By being located in another state, one with secrecy and protection laws, they should be outside the reach of local courts. The trust can even be set up with instructions to ignore orders given under duress, effectively rendering you blameless if court orders directed at the trust are not fulfilled.

It's important to know one thing that an asset protection trust is not, however. It is not a tax shelter. The settlor is still responsible for taxes on any assets within the trust, and must report them in their tax filing. Any attempt to hide assets from the IRS in an asset protection trust is risking tax fraud charges. Also, these trusts should not be deliberately used to defraud legitimate debtors. There are substantial legal tools that can be brought to bear on the settlor if a court deems the trust to be fraudulent.

Asset protection trusts are not for everyone, and carry some risks and significant drawbacks,not the least of which being the deliberate transfer in a structure that makes practical sense to you. Nonetheless, in cases where they are needed, they can be extremely powerful tools for asset protection with relatively little risk to you other than the cost of creation and annual trustee fees. I like to think of these costs as insurance premiums for protecting your wealth.

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Tags: Asset Protection Trust, Fiduciary Services, Asset Protection

Protecting Assets from Malpractice With An Asset Protection Trust

Posted by Dave DePinto on Thu, Jan 26, 2012

Many medical professionals fear losing their personal assets to a malpractice claim. There's good reason for this, too. An estimated 25% of practicing physicians are sued annually, and over half of all physicians will likely face a malpractice suit sometime during their careers. While only around a quarter of these are won by the plaintiff, payouts are often high enough to be ruinous to the doctor, especially as malpractice insurance coverage continues to shrink. With odds like that, it would be very unwise not to investigate an asset protection trust to shield your wealth in case of disaster.

There are a number of different asset protection structures available to you for protecting your wealth against court claims. Among the most popular of these is the Family Limited Partnership (FLP). An FLP is a form of business structure where there are general partners with managerial rights, and limited partners with less governorship but also less personal liability. As this FLP would become the owner of your assets, it becomes much more difficult for claimants to get a hold of them. One typical scenario involves the FLP being set up with you as a limited partner, and your spouse the general partner, since he or she would not be involved in a malpractice suit.

FLPs can also pull a double shift by acting as estate planning as well. It can be used to gradually distribute your wealth to your heirs, generally as limited partners, helping to ensure as much of your wealth as possible goes to them before your death. Upon your death, remaining assets are taxed at a lower rate than the estate tax takes.

Irrevocable trusts or offshore trusts are another option, although these are somewhat more drastic and may not be needed unless you are in a high-risk area of practice. In the case of these, you would be permanently transferring your wealth into the hands of a trust, which then governs their usage and investment.

Much of the value of asset protection structures lies in their deterrent effect. Many malpractice suits are launched in hopes of a large payout. If you convince the plaintiff's lawyers that your assets are shielded, they may just take the insurance settlement, rather than risk a lengthy and expensive court battle with questionable chances of success.

However, with any of these asset protection trusts, the key is planning ahead. Once a lawsuit has been initiated against you, attempts to protect your assets will be fruitless. Just as you have malpractice insurance to protect you professionally, asset protection is insurance for your money itself. An ounce of prevention, as they say, is worth a pound of cure – especially when that “cure” is your own wealth.

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Tags: Asset Protection Trust, Fiduciary Services, Asset Protection