Protecting the Family Home
Protecting the family home or primary residence is a leading concern for many individuals. Several asset protection strategies for this purpose can be accomplished by using one or a combination of legal structures and techniques.
Privacy of Ownership
The first step in protecting real property is to own it privately. Privacy of ownership removes the asset from one’s name directly through the use of a trust, such as a land trust. This simple technique titles real estate in the name of a trust, so when a legal opponent performs an asset search using an individual’s name, no property would be revealed.
Attorneys will almost always perform an asset search prior to taking a case on contingency. If an individual appears to have no assets to satisfy a judgment the chances of a frivolous lawsuit or predatory legal attack drop significantly.
Land trusts are simple, revocable, can be changed, modified or terminated at any time and create a strong layer of privacy for owning real property.
Another strategy for protecting property is to reduce the apparent value by stripping the equity. A property that is 100% mortgaged with liens is not an asset to a judgment creditor. If a legal opponent is looking for a judgment payoff and cannot find assets that can be used to satisfy it, the chances of being litigated against or the property being pursued are greatly reduced – litigators are generally not interested in suing people who have no assets or no equity in an asset.
Stripping the equity from a property could be done for the available equity based on state homestead protection laws. Some states, such as Florida and Texas, have 100% homestead protection of one’s primary residence, however other states have a maximum dollar amount of equity that is protected. In these cases one can strip the equity down using an asset protection strategy and combine it with the state’s protection amount to achieve no available equity to creditors.
State homestead protection only applies to one’s primary residence, for investment properties or second homes a different asset protection strategy should be implemented.
In some cases it’s necessary to liquidate the asset and place the proceeds into a liquid asset protection strategy. This is by far the most expensive strategy, however it nearly guarantees that the value of the asset is protected – liquid assets are easier to transfer and protect. This is done by taking a maximum home equity loan and transferring the money into a well-protected account. This involves multiple legal structures and a business entity, however they can be established quickly and easily.