People often confuse estate planning with wealth preservation, aka “asset protection.” The confusion is understandable for 2 reasons. First, estate planning and wealth preservation have overlapping areas and considerations. Second, and probably the most popular reason is that legalese is confusing when it refers to almost everything.
Estate planning, while it involves planning for asset maintenance during your lifetime, that planning typically addresses emergencies. Accordingly, the documents needed are powers of attorney and medical release forms. Some trusts may also assist in asset maintenance, such as Qualified Personal Residence Trusts (QPRTs) and even revocable living trusts that provide income during the life of the beneficiary/trustee. However, estate plans generally address the transfer of assets to loved ones upon death.
Wealth preservation, conversely, addresses the issue of keeping and enjoying the fruits of your labor during your lifetime and, most importantly, keeping it out of the reach of others. Many individuals think that the big other is Uncle Sam. The contrary is true. Most lawyers who prepare wealth preservation plans repel the idea of tax evasion; it’s against the law. Do we use the law to help minimize tax burdens? Yes. But the operative phrase is “use the law” not evade the law. Thus, we only work with clients who are willing to comply with tax laws and if potential clients don’t like the sound of that, those of us who want to keep our licenses, gently tell those potential clients to seek counsel elsewhere.
The “others” we really want to keep away from your “fruits” are menacing, frivolous plaintiffs. These plaintiffs are individuals who believe that because you work in a particular profession, that they should be on payroll even though they don’t deserve a penny of your earnings. Usually, the clients who confront menacing plaintiffs are either business owner or those in “high risk professions” that attract unwarranted lawsuits – doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, and hazardous chemical delivery.
Occasionally the lawsuits are valid and settlements are reasonable and on other occasions, the lawsuits are unwarranted or the settlements are egregiously large, causing the defendant to lose everything. To prevent financial disasters such as this, clients seek the services of attorneys who provide wealth preservation services that include a number of strategies:
- Liability insurance in the millions of dollars.
- A Limited Liability Company (LLC) or a Family Limited Partnership (FLP) and if one is nearing retirement, we look to maximize retirement earnings being mindful however, that retirement vehicles are often emptied in large risk events such as a litigation settlement;
- A Domestic Asset Protection Trust (DAPT) in a state that allows DAPTs and to ensure that you have a substantial relationship to that state. FYI – Illinois is not a DAPT state; and
- An international trip to a jurisdiction that allow offshore trusts whereby the financial institution is the trustee and you are the beneficiary. Admittedly, many individuals don’t like the idea of living in one country while most of their assets are in another but when they learn of the thousands of frivolous lawsuits that are filed because a plaintiff thinks they should have a payday of which they are non-deserving, some change their mind.
Hopefully, you found this helpful and have started planning for both your today and tomorrow, as well as the tomorrow of your loved ones, and the plan isn’t being an unwarranted payroll.