While most people assume only the uber wealthy need to worry about asset protection, those with less wealth and fewer assets may be at even greater risk. For example, if you’re a multi-millionaire, a $50,000 judgment against you might not be that big of a burden. But for a family with a modest income, home, and savings, it could be catastrophic.
Asset protection planning isn’t something you can put off until something happens. Like all planning, to be effective, you must have asset protection strategies in place well before something happens. Plus, your asset protection plan isn’t a one-and-done deal: It must be regularly updated to accommodate changes to your family structure and asset profile.
There are numerous planning strategies available for asset protection, but three of the most common include the following:
Purchasing different forms of insurance—health, auto, watercraft, and homeowner’s—should always be the first line of defense to protect your assets. Whether you’re ultimately found at fault or not, if you’re ever sued, defending yourself in court can be extremely costly.
Insurance is designed not only to help you pay damages if a lawsuit against you is successful, but the insurance company is also responsible for hiring you a lawyer and paying his or her attorney’s fees to defend you in court, whether you lose or win. However, insurance policies come with various amounts of coverage, which can be exceeded by large judgments, so you should also seriously consider buying umbrella insurance.
Should your underlying insurance policy max out, an “umbrella” policy will help cover any remaining damages and legal expenses.
2. Statutory exemptions
Another way to protect your family’s assets is by taking full advantage of federal and state laws that make certain types of assets “exempt” from creditor claims and judgements. Depending on your state, the availability and amount of protection offered by such exemptions can vary.
For example, many states offer a homestead exemption, which protects a certain amount—or even the full value—of the equity you have in your primary residence from creditors. If your state provides a generous homestead exemption, paying down your mortgage could protect funds that are otherwise vulnerable. In Hawaii, the homestead exemption amount is $20,000. It’s $30,000 for head of household or over 65 years of age.
Similarly, federal and state laws classify many retirement plans, such as 401ks and IRAs, as exempt assets, while some states also offer significant, or complete, exemptions for life insurance policies and annuities, as well. In Hawaii, both IRA and Roth IRA are exempt. However, the exemption does not apply to contributions made to a plan or arrangement within three years before the date of a bankruptcy or civil action is initiated against the debtor. Also, life insurance proceeds and annuity contracts payable to the spouse of the insured, or to a child, parent, or other person dependent on the insured is generally exempt.
Even though exemptions won’t offer you total protection, they can provide significant shelter for certain assets. Plus, using statutory exemptions is something that can be accomplished without investing anything—all that’s required is for you to understand how best to structure your investments to take advantage of these exemptions. Meet with us for a Family Wealth Planning Session to learn what kinds and amounts of exemptions are available.
3. Business entities
Owning a business can be an incredible wealth-generating asset for your family, but it can also be a serious liability. Indeed, without the proper protection, your personal assets are extremely vulnerable if your company ever runs into trouble. For example, if your business is currently a sole proprietorship or general partnership, you are personally liable for any debts or lawsuits incurred by your business.
Structuring your business as a limited liability company (LLC) or S corporation is typically the best way to go for many small businesses. When properly set up and maintained, both entities create an impenetrable barrier between your personal assets and your business activities. Creditors, clients, and other potentially litigious individuals can go after assets owned by your company, but not your personal assets.
If you own any kind of business, even just a side gig to earn extra income, you should seriously consider creating a protective entity to ensure any liabilities incurred by your company won’t affect your personal assets. The Law Office of Keoni Souza can help you select, put in place, and maintain the proper entity structure for your particular business operation.
4. Estate Planning
While each of the asset-protection scenarios shared above are “maybes,” there is one certainty in life—death. It’s coming for all of us. And your death, or an incapacity before it, is the biggest risk to your family’s assets. Planning in advance for what is certain to come is a gift to the people you love the most.
If you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to get it handled, and we’ve made it easy for you to do that.
You work way too hard to leave your assets at risk. Contact us to schedule your Family Wealth Planning Session, and let’s get this taken care of now. During your Family Wealth Planning Session, you’ll become educated, informed, and empowered to know you’ve made the right decisions, at the most affordable cost, for the people you love.
This article is a service of the Law Office of Keoni Souza, LLC, an estate planning law firm in Honolulu, Hawaii. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by contacting our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.
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