Given the high cost of jury verdicts today, many professionals are looking for ways to protect their personal property from malpractice and negligence claims. For example, if you’re a healthcare professional and own a home, a car or a portfolio of stocks, it’s essential to protect your assets against lawsuits. The good news is that sound financial planning can go a long way to keeping your personal net worth from the threat of litigation. A comprehensive wealth management plan can also help you achieve other long-term financial goals, which may include planning a child’s education, ensuring a comfortable retirement for you and your spouse and minimizing property taxes for your heirs. While it’s advisable to seek out professional opinion from professional limited liability companies, like Wyoming, when planning your assets protection, also keep these 4 things in mind.
1. Have An Idea About Property Protection
Never jump in making decisions, especially when it comes to protecting your assets. Make efforts to know what‘s involved and what it’ll definitely cost you. Note that:
- A well-structured financial plan discourages prosecution.
- Good asset protection should not be expensive.
- An experienced asset manager can help you take a more integrated approach to achieving your financial goals.
Starting with the basics, there are three levels of asset protection. The first is to invest in assets that are automatically protected against lawsuits in most states, such as your home, qualified retirement accounts, annuities and the cash value of life policies. The second level is the creation of private trusts and companies that remove assets from your personal domain. The third level is the creation of personal property entities in different jurisdictions, making it more difficult for people to place privileges on your assets through a lawsuit.
For many physicians, a good starting point is to simply implement the first level of asset protection – get the most out of your investments in assets that are automatically protected from lawsuits in most states. Many health professionals neglect these simple strategies:
- Your house. Part of your equity is generally exempted from prosecution in most states. In Arizona, for example, up to $ 150,000 in equity is exempted from legal action. Texas and Florida offer unlimited coverage for equity at home. Once you have reached the equity ceiling of the protected property in your state of residence, you may want to consider maintaining a mortgage loan for the mortgage. Plaintiffs in a lawsuit will not be interested in your debt-only assets.
- Qualified retirement accounts. Funds held in ERISA-eligible retirement accounts, such as defined benefit plans or 401 (k) plans, are generally exempt from prosecution, so it is often logical to maximize your annual contributions to these accounts. Not only do you benefit from asset protection, but you will also benefit from tax-efficient savings, helping you to increase your capital. Unskilled pension plans, such as deferred compensation plans, may also have a role to play in helping you achieve your wealth management goals. Unskilled plans offer some protection against lawsuits, as well as unique benefits for highly paid business owners and employees.
- Deferred annuities. A deferred pension represents the money you set aside today to create future income, usually for retirement. If you have not yet started making distributions of your deferred annuity, the value of your annuity contract is generally exempt from prosecution. In addition to providing asset protection, annuities can help supplement other sources of income in retirement, such as social security or withdrawals from your IRA or 401 (k) accounts.
- Cash value of life insurance schemes. Once you have held a life insurance policy for more than two years, the cash value of the policy is generally protected from lawsuits in most states. In addition, the cash value of the policy can often be accessed through withdrawals and tax-free loans at retirement, which can be particularly attractive if tax rates increase in the future. In addition, insurance policies can also be a useful way to transfer wealth to future generations.
2. Myths Aren’t Facts
There are often lots of misunderstandings on asset protection, especially between doctors and other health professionals about strategies that offer true peace of mind. Don’t follow someone’s thoughts or what they think is involved or you should do. The best thing to do is seek a professional’s guidance and opinion to help you make the right decision.
3. Explore Advanced Strategies
If you are just starting your career, the first level of protection (investing in assets that are automatically exempt from prosecution) may be all you need right now. As you go further in your career and your personal equity continues to grow, you may want to consider exploring some advanced strategies for asset protection, including the creation of trusts, companies, and LLCs. In addition, you may consider establishing these entities in different jurisdictions, making it more difficult for people to place liens on your personal property. Take note that “protective” trusts, corporations and LLC(s) can be expensive to generate and maintain, so you should explore all options with your team of trusted advisors before pursuing asset protection solutions.
4. Create an Air-Tight plan
The most effective asset protection strategies start with sound financial planning. If a judge or court determines that you’re trying to “conceal” assets to creditors, they can remove the exempt status of those assets. For example, if you buy an important life insurance policy shortly before bankruptcy, a court can determine that any assets involved in “last-minute” transactions are still being litigated. The best protection for your assets is to show that you have legitimate reasons for structuring your assets with many other benefits in the way that makes the most sense to you and your family in the long run. In a court of law, your intention is the key. Your intention to set up accounts cannot be to avoid situations of liability. Instead, your intention should be associated with responsible and ethical financial planning, (planning a comfortable retirement or the smooth transfer of your estate to your heirs).
The approaches mentioned here are simply “conversation starters” to have with your wealth manager, lawyer and tax professional. Each physician has unique needs and goals, so your personal asset management and asset protection plan will need to be tailored to your specific situation. In addition, asset protection laws may vary considerably among states. The key to creating an effective asset protection plan starts now before you need it. By creating a team of trusted professionals, discussing your goals and reviewing your plan on a regular interval, you can generate a wealth management plan that can fully covered you from unforeseen circumstances – a plan that helps you feel more confident about your financial future.
Featured photo credit: WonHo Sung via unsplash.com
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