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Asset Protection Planning: The ABCs of Asset Protection
By Jennifer Reuting, author of Limited Liability Companies for Dummies™

What Do You Need To Do To Protect Your Hard-Earned Assets?
You’ve spent your entire life putting off the pleasure of the moment to build your future. If you are like most entrepreneurs, you’ve toiled and spent many restless nights thinking about how to get your next big idea off of the ground or whether or not to buy this property or that piece of equipment. Perhaps you haven’t been sued yet… maybe you’ve had a few close calls but after a few years you feel as though you are immune. If it hasn’t happened yet, it won’t happen ever, right? Wrong!

This society that we live in gets more and more litigious every day. Before, lawsuits were a form of justice, now they are often used as get-rich-quick schemes by prowling attorneys that make their money playing Robin Hood. The truth is that if you have anything at all – it is at risk of being taken away.

The saddest thing about lawsuits is that even if you win, you lose. Attorneys often play the lawsuit lottery — filing as many as they can just hoping to strike it big. You may have a 50% chance of winning your frivolous lawsuit, but the difference between you and the plaintiff is that you actually have to pay for legal fees. You see, most of the lawyers that file these sorts of cases work on a contingency basis. This means that they don’t charge their client unless they win the case. You on the other hand, could be paying tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars just to defend yourself.

And is this even a gamble that you want to take? There are some pretty damned good lawyers out there — some who never lose a case. Judges and juries are going further and further when it comes to their idea of liability. Stratospheric damages and punitive damages for ridiculous cases are getting to be more and more common place. If you are found to be even remotely negligent, you can find yourself looking at having to pay over a million for the judgment.

Here’s a real-life example of why operating as a sole-proprietorship is a dangerous move: A doctor prescribed some antihistamines to cure the allergies of one of his patients. The patients took the antihistamines, choosing to ignore the warning label that the medication could make him drowsy. Unfortunately, he got himself into a pretty serious car accident.

The victim in that car accident was contacted by a personal injury attorney (or two, or three, or ten probably) who began looking into the case. He saw that the driver wasn’t very well off and had no assets so to speak. Instead of dropping the case at that, the attorney decided to test his luck and sue the doctor that prescribed the driver the medication. Doctors have money, right?

Well, after ripping the doctor up in court, the jury decided to play Robin Hood and award the victim a whopping $6.2 million in damages. Holy cow, right? Well, it gets worse… the doctor’s malpractice insurance didn’t cover it because they only cover actual victims, not victims of so-called victims. Because the doctor was operating as a sole-proprietor and had no asset protection plan in place, he and his family were financially ruined for what was to be the better part of their lives. Was the doctor at fault here? Yes, but only because he failed to protect everything that he had worked for.

Who are the real victims?

The real victims of frivolous lawsuits are not the plaintiffs, but the defendants. The targets of today’s lawsuits are the middle to upper class folks that have equity in their homes, own small businesses and/or have saved for retirement.

There are over 1 million attorneys in this country. Compare that to the 30 million adults in this country that fit the above profile (a little under 30% of the entire adult population). If each lawyer files an average of 19 lawsuits per year, you do the math. Yes, they do also sue businesses, but it’s the average adults that own those businesses. Like I said, if it hasn’t happened to you yet, it’s only a matter of time.

When you thought you’d heard it all…

A woman in West Virginia was awarded $2.2 million when she hurt her back opening a pickle jar. She also received over $130,000 in compensation and over $170 for emotional distress.

The parents of a man that was found dead and naked (that’s strange!) on the back of a killer whale are suing Sea World. Apparently, he had slipped past security and decided to swim in the killer whale tank. The parents are alleging that Sea World is at fault because the company portrays killer whales as being friendly. Not to mention it’s named a “killer” whale, but should we also sue Disney for portraying lions as friendly in the Lion King?

A Louisiana woman is suing Nintendo after her 30-year-old son had a deadly seizure. Apparently, he played the game eight hours per day, six days per week for over 18 months. He had four seizures previously because of this behavior, but that didn’t deter him. There is now an epilepsy warning on every Nintendo that is sold. In another case, a woman won a large award after her son suffered a non-deadly seizure after playing to long.

An Ohio street maintenance worker that volunteered as a youth baseball coach was sued by the parents of his catcher for bad coaching. Was it because he yelled at the kids? Nope. They just didn’t win any games and the father wanted his son to go to the tournament in Florida.

You know those rooftops that you used to watch baseball on from afar when the game was sold out? Well, the Chicago Cubs are suing the 13 businesses that border Wrigley field for selling access to their rooftops during the games.

But there is hope… Asset Protection Planning!

There is a way to protect yourself and your business. Luckily, while America is a very lawsuit-friendly place to live, it also protects the entrepreneurs and risk-takers that make this country great. Entities such as corporations and LLCs were created for just that purpose, and you would be silly not to use them! You see, when you operate your business out of a corporation or LLC, you are no longer personally responsible for any of the debts or lawsuits of your business and all you have to lose is what you put in. Your home, your car, your bank account and kids’ college funds are safe. This is called the “corporate veil” and it is the most valuable protection that one can have.

- Jennifer Reuting

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