The Best Asset Protection Is NOT Asset Protection

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The Best Asset Protection is NOT Asset Protection
Too many physicians over the last 20 years have sought cookie-cutter asset protection plans to give them some “peace of mind.” While we admire these Doctors’ commitment to proactively managing their risk, we have to remind the Doctors we speak with that all “asset protection plans” are not created equal. In fact, many of these “plans” will not work if they ever are tested. Why is this? Essentially, it is because of a basic tenet of asset protection: for any asset protection plan to truly stand up to a challenge, it must have economic substance.
Looking at it from a different viewpoint, superior asset protection planning would involve tools that are primarily used by people for non-asset protection purposes. In this way, the best asset protection plan involves tools typically not thought of as “asset protection tools”; instead, they are “business planning tools.” Stated another way, “the best asset protection is not asset protection.”

Similar To Tax Planning
While few physicians realize this crucial fact of asset protection planning, leading attorneys in the field know it quite well. In fact, we are not alone, as tax attorneys and CPAs know this adage is just as true when it comes to tax planning.
Simply put, when determining whether or not a particular transaction with significant tax benefits was an illegitimate tax shelter or not, the IRS or tax court typically uses a simple test: “Would a taxpayer have done this deal if not for the tax benefit?” In other words, they are asking whether or not this transaction was simply done to save taxes or if it had another economic purpose. If there was such a purpose, the transaction stands. If the transaction was only tax-motivated, it fails.
This same test applies when evaluating whether or not a credit protection tactic will be upheld if ever challenged down the road. Here, the question is “did this transaction have an economic purpose, or was it simply done for asset protection purposes?” If you are using tools that millions of Americans use on a daily basis for non-asset protection purposes, you can convincingly answer yes.

Young couple on waterWhy This Is So Important
Over the last decade, many courts throughout the U.S. have become increasingly frustrated with “asset protection planning.” Reading judges’ decisions in this area, it is obvious what has created their frustration—the prevalence of firms marketing themselves as “asset protection” experts, promoting the idea that the judgments of U.S. courts can be frustrated by their planning. Is this surprising? No. Of course judges are not going to be happy about an area of planning that is designed to circumvent the execution of a judgment that their court rendered, and prevent a successful plaintiff from getting paid on a judgment.
The courts’ frustration is most severe when the defendant has made transfers or engaged in transactions that seem “fishy,” even if the transaction at issue was made well before the beginning of the lawsuit process. If the transaction comes too late, the judges can resort to remedies to undue “fraudulent transfers.” However, even in cases where the transaction came well before any plaintiff’s action, we have seen judges strain to circumvent the asset protection planning.
In fact, there are certain cases where courts have given more leeway to a claim of fraudulent transfer based on a “foreseeability” argument. On the logic of one particularly noteworthy case, a medical malpractice case could always be seen as “foreseeable.” Taken to its logical conclusion, this position could support the argument that a Doctor who does procedures daily is aware of the possibility of mistakes. If this were true, a plaintiff suing a Doctor could attack asset protection transfers made years prior to the case.
By using “non asset protection” asset protection, you are not as vulnerable to this emerging trend in the law. The techniques explained in this chapter do not involve “transfers” at all. Given this, and “non asset protection” techniques with tangible and concrete economic substance, these tools and tactics are certainly among the strongest protection you can implement for the long term.

Asset Protection That Isn’t
The best asset protection tools were not created as asset protection tools. They are tools that have other primary benefits and offer outstanding creditor protection as a secondary benefit. Which asset protection tools are not asset protection tools? Let’s examine a few of them briefly here. They will all be developed further in other parts of the book.

Qualified Retirement Plans
The term “qualified” retirement plan means that the retirement plan complies with certain Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service rules. You might know such plans by their specific type, including pension plans, profit sharing plans, money purchase plans, 401(k)s or 403(b)s. Properly structured plans offer a variety of real economic benefits: you can fully deduct contributions to these plans, and funds within them grow tax-deferred. In fact, this is likely why most medical practices sponsor such a plan. Keep in mind that distributions may be subject to tax and a 10% penalty if withdrawn prior to age 59.
What you may not know is that under federal bankruptcy law and nearly every state law, these plans are protected against lawsuits and creditor claims—enjoying (+5) protection status. Yet the overwhelming majority of millions of Americans who use qualified plans are not using them for asset protection purposes. This, then, is a great example of an attractive economic tool that just so happens to have tremendous asset protection benefits as well.

Non-Qualified Retirement Plans
Non-Qualified plans are relatively unknown to physicians, even though most Fortune 1000 companies make Non-Qualified plans available to their executives. These types of plans should be very attractive to physicians, as employees are not required to participate and allowable contributions can be much higher than with qualified plans, although not deductible. Once again, Non-Qualified plans are generally not used for asset protection purposes, but they may have such benefits. Read more about them in Chapter 5-4.

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The One Contract Your Practice Must Have

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Buy-Sell Agreement

The One Contract Your Practice Must Have
Though the odds of a premature death of a practice partner are not high, the same cannot be said about a life changing disability. Because both of these risks can have such devastating effects on the finances of the practice and the future income of the remaining healthy partners, we find it troubling that so few Doctors properly address this risk.
A medical practice is a business. As such, it is created for the purpose of generating financial benefit for its owners. Practice CEOs are supposed to take calculated risks and manage these risks to maximize long-term after-tax income. There is no excuse for them to completely ignore the potentially devastating risk of disability or death of physician-partners. Are you the de facto CEO of your practice? If so, how are you protecting against these risks?
Most states prevent non-Doctors from owning professional medical practices. This is certainly true in California. California Business and Professions Code Section 2052 provides that “any person who practices or attempts to practice, or who advertises or holds himself or herself out as practicing… [medicine] without having at the time of so doing a valid, unrevoked, or unsuspended certificate…is guilty of a public offense, punishable by a fine, by imprisonment in the state prison, by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both the fine and either imprisonment.”
Additionally, California Business and Professions Code Section 2400 provides that “corporations and other artificial legal entities shall have no professional rights, privileges, or powers.” The policy expressed in Business and Professions Code section 2400 against the corporate practice of medicine is intended to prevent unlicensed persons from interfering with, or influencing, the physician’s professional judgment.
This means that, as compared to a regular business owner, a Doctor building a medical practice is not generally building wealth for his or her family. If you want to ensure that you do build wealth for the family through your practice and actually turn your practice into a “wealth building engine” for your family, you must draft, fully-execute, and fund a Buy-Sell agreement.
In this chapter, we will discuss the reasons why a premature death or disability of a partner is such a big risk and what the financial repercussions are of failing to address this issue. We will then discuss the “medicine” for such an ailment—the Buy-Sell Agreement. We also address the importance, and method, of funding the agreement and how to work with the right team of advisors. With all of this knowledge, you should be motivated and prepared to address this important issue in your practice.

Always Expect The Unexpected
As owners of a professional practice, Doctors can spend 10 hours per day, six or seven days per week getting their practices to the point where the practice provides a measure of security for their families. We know, because we have been there ourselves. Nonetheless, those who ignore one fundamental legal contract jeopardize all of their hard work. This very important legal contract is the Buy-Sell agreement. This is an agreement that all owners sign, agreeing how the practice will be valued at the time of one partner’s death or disability, and how the purchase of the shares will be paid.
Without a Buy-Sell agreement, partners and remaining families have no guidelines as to how a practice will deal with an early death or the disability of a physician-owner. At a time when the family is grieving or caring for a disabled family member and possibly struggling to pay their bills, they will look to the remaining partners’ practice to help them in their time of need. At the same time, the remaining partners may be struggling to get by without the services of a valuable partner. The last thing either of these two groups need is a struggle over money. In too many cases, the absence of a Buy-Sell agreement at the time of death or disability can cause bankruptcies for the families of all of the partners. More