What is an Asset Protection Attorney? How to Choose One
Getting started on an asset protection plan can be a daunting process. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through it alone. There are legal professionals and financial planners out there to help you create your plan. One of those professionals is an asset protection attorney. This organization establishes asset protection plans for many asset protection attorneys and their clients in the US and worldwide. Understanding what an asset protection plan is and how you can utilize one will help you make the most out of your strategy. Taking action on what you learn will help you to protect yourself, your family, and your business.
Need an asset protection attorney? There are numbers and an inquiry form on this page, as well, in order to discuss your needs. You can speak with a professional asset protection planner. They can review your situation and, if needed, connect you with one of our pre-screened asset protection attorneys.
Asset Protection Planning
The first step to understanding what such a plan is and what an asset protection attorney does is to define asset protection. Investopedia’s asset protection definition explains that it is a concept of and strategies for guarding one’s wealth. The goal of asset protection is to protect wealth, property, and other assets from creditor claims. Asset protection strategies are used both by individuals and companies to limit creditor access to valuable assets and properties in a legal fashion.
Asset protection planning might seem like something only for the super wealthy. Elder Law explains that anyone can get sued. Lawsuits can come from a variety of places, including car accidents, credit card debt, foreclosures, unhappy customers, and more. Losing a legal dispute – and sometimes just facing the process – could cripple your finances, leaving you bankrupt in the end.
The Ideal Time to Act
Any asset protection plan should ideally begin before a lawsuit arises. The law makes it more difficult to block current creditors from accessing assets, and implementing protective measures in the middle of a lawsuit. There are ways to protect yourself after someone sues you but it is best to do so beforehand. Courts can reverse the transfer of many assets into protected accounts under the control of someone within their jurisdiction. That’s why it’s important to start creating your plan now – and enlist a qualified lawyer to help you through the process. Plus, if you are already in the thick of it, there are international trust structures that can keep the hands of creditors off of your hard-earned liquid assets.
Defining an Asset Protection Attorney
An asset protection attorney is a lawyer with experience in helping clients find legal ways to protect their assets when lawsuits, bankruptcy, creditor claims, or other liabilities arise. This experience allows the attorneys to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of certain asset protection tools with their clients. Some of these tools include corporate structures, asset protection trusts, and retirement plans. So, we will discuss these items later in this article. These attorneys can give you legal advice that will help you make the most of your asset protection plan. In addition, they can help you keep it within the bounds of the law.
An asset protection attorney can go by many names, from broad to specific – estate lawyer, trust attorney, and more. Because of the sensitive and often complicated nature of asset protection, not every law firm has lawyers that specialize in it. There are laws and regulations specific to shielding your assets from creditors and creating a long-term protection plan. Thus, the attorney you choose must know these laws in order to help you create a plan.
The American Bar Association (ABA) suggests inquiring as to your attorney’s experience in handling estate plans. Membership in certain bar associations and organizations can show a certain level of dedication from your attorney. An example of one of these, in the form of a professional college, is the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC).
Why You Need One
If you’ve already done some research into creating your asset protection plan, you might have run across a few do-it-yourself kits. These kits boast that they can allow you to set up wills, trusts, and more. They imply that you can do it without ever needing to enlist the help of a legal professional. These options may seem tempting in lieu of the legal fees associated with an attorney. But you should seriously consider the ramifications down the road if you do something wrong. Perhaps you put the wrong asset in the wrong legal tool. You could then face a legal dispute and assets seizures that drain those very assets you meant to protect.
The American Bar Association reminds anyone looking to protect their assets that only a qualified estate lawyer can interpret the laws. There are laws that exist around property rights, taxes, wills, probate, and trusts. A DIY asset protection kit doesn’t provide someone that makes sure that everything is filled out right. A professional can help see to it that the assets are properly handled, assess state laws, and address key personal needs. Therefore, if money is the only reason you’re looking at such kits, save money instead on hourly legal fees by coming to your meeting prepared.
Asset Protection Prep Work
When you’re ready to start creating your plan, Investment News has a few suggestions of things to prepare. It is essential to know your goals before talking to an attorney or financial planner about your asset protection strategies. The attorney will typically analyze your financial status, see which assets he can protect or transfer, and whether you expect your financial situation to change. Be prepared to be honest about any potential litigation coming up that you know of. Think about how much time and effort you can put into creating your plan and maintaining it. Decide how comfortable you are placing assets in various legal tools and utilizing strategies that rely on licensed trustees.
Once you have considered the above, gather copies of any important asset documentation, from housing deeds to bank statements. Then, do some research to find an attorney in your area that specializes in asset protection. It’s important to understand that protecting your assets is not a quick “one and done” process. Sure, it will take time and money. But the more upfront and thorough you are with the professionals helping you, the more you will get out of the process.
Once you’ve chosen an attorney to start working with, there are a few final things you can do to prepare for the first meeting. Professional Family Lawyer offers a few tips for this. First, call the offices of the lawyers you have chosen. This initial phone call can be a good way to screen the office to see if they are a fit. Do the offices have live people answering the phone or do they use machines? That can indicate that they will quickly answer your future questions and are easy to get a hold of. Another indicator of easy accessibility is if the attorney has an emergency or after-hours number for clients to call.
What to Expect
Once you get a hold of someone, make sure to ask about what to expect in the initial meeting. Ask whether or not there will be a charge. If there is a charge, don’t immediately reject that lawyer, however. A paid meeting can sometimes provide you with more information about asset protection than a free consultation. Knowing there is a charge upfront prompts you to get better prepared for the meeting. During the meeting, itself, be sure to discuss the long term legal fees and costs associated with your protection plan. Whereas most states don’t require a written financial agreement, it’s a good idea for you to request one. The ACTEC website includes model engagement letters to help you prepare in this aspect.
The first meeting with your lawyer should provide you with a chance to get to know him or her. Additionally, it can educate you and him on how best to handle your specific case. You want to be able to leave the meeting with a clear idea of what the next steps are for you, your family, and your business. If you don’t leave the initial meeting with that feeling, that attorney might not be right for you.
The Protection Continuum
To get a better idea of how to decide what to do, the lowest tier of asset protection may include buying a homeowners or auto insurance policy. Altering the deductible and coverage level helps you create the right coverage for your personal or business property. Moving up in the asset protection continuum could include setting up a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation. An LLC may provide protection for rental property or other real estate. A corporation can own your business. The protection of an LLC or corporation comes from protecting your identity, separating you from your asset in the eyes of the creditor. Plus, it could be a good idea at this level to set up a life insurance trust to protect the cash value of your life insurance policy. A powerful strategy further up on the continuum often includes creating an asset protection trust.
Along the continuum, an individual’s needs will differ from that of a company. One very important factor is the state or country where you form your asset protection strategy. Is it in a jurisdiction that offers the strongest protection? This may or may not be in the same state or country in which you live. Cook Islands and Nevis offer some of the strongest asset protection statutes on the planet. What provisions will you include? Who are trustees and beneficiaries? These issues will determine what coverage you need. Discussing your goals with your attorney and your financial planner helps ensure you get the right coverage.
Asset Protection Attorney Conclusion
A final thing to note with asset protection and your attorney is that there is no “one size fits all” plan. Asset protection operates on a continuum, varying in complexity and coverage based on the individual or company’s need. In an article on this subject for the ABA attorneys discuss how understanding this helps both client and lawyer come to the right plan. Where you lie on the continuum depends on your perception of your current risk, the cost and complexity of the steps, and the cost/benefit tradeoff of each measure.