Asset Protection: What You Need to Know

Asset Protection: What You Need to Know

You've spent a lifetime saving for retirement. So, when the time finally comes, you want to make sure you're doing everything you can to protect your assets — especially from creditors. If you get into financial trouble, such as bankruptcy, or face a lawsuit, your retirement funds may not be as secure as you think.

That's where developing an asset protection strategy comes into play. It's something that should be a part of any long-term retirement plan and may help protect you and your family from significant financial losses.

Here's how to start thinking about protecting your assets now and into retirement.

Why Asset Protection is Important

If there's anything true about life, it's you can always expect the unpredictable. A single lawsuit — whether from an injury on your property or a car accident — or a business liability claim could end up leaving your assets, including your home and retirement accounts, at risk. Unfortunately, people unprepared for these moments may find their homes or savings lost to creditors and legal filings.

With an asset protection plan, you can have a strategy in place using a variety of investment tools and products to help you maintain your quality of life.

If you have equity in your home, retirement savings or are an owner or partner in a business, then you may benefit from thinking about how you can protect your assets now before the unexpected strikes. While there's no way to completely guarantee your assets will be protected at all times, there are things you can do now to prepare.

Retirement Accounts Offer Different Levels of Protection

Depending on the type of retirement account you have and the state you live in, your savings may not be completely protected from creditors. As you begin developing a plan, you should first determine the type of retirement accounts you have and how they may be impacted.

Qualified retirement plans fall under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). These are generally protected from seizure by creditors. An employer-sponsored 401(k) is one example of a qualified plan, as are pensions, profit-sharing plans and some 403(b) plans. In addition, many health spending accounts and health plans — such as health reimbursement accounts (HRAs), health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and life insurance — are also covered by ERISA.

Non-qualified retirement plans don't fall under ERISA and don't offer the same level of protection. Plans such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and Roth IRAs aren't fully protected from creditors by the government. So, if you were to declare bankruptcy, for example, a creditor could seize the funds in your Roth IRA but not in your employer-sponsored 401(k).

Something else to keep in mind with non-qualified plans is that protection levels may vary by state. For instance, in some states, an IRA is protected up to a specific dollar amount from creditors. Anything beyond that amount may be taken.

Asset Protection Strategies

You don't need to be in a high-income bracket or have multiple homes to care about protecting your assets. Anyone can benefit from discussing strategies with a financial professional.

Here are a few options you may want to explore:

  • Review the laws in your state about the dollar amount for any non-qualified accounts you have to understand the protection limits.
  • Explore other retirement vehicles that offer protection and may provide income in retirement such as an annuity.
  • Consider your options for life insurance to help protect your loved ones after you're gone.
  • Review your current home, car, or malpractice and business liability insurance and determine if you should increase your coverage to offer more protection.
  • Verify the laws in your state about titling or transferring assets to spouses or business partners, which may help reduce risk.
  • Consider using a trust, which will allow you to transfer asset ownership to a trustee and is also protected from creditors.
  • If you're a business owner, review your business structure — you may want to incorporate as an LLC or LP, which can help separate your assets from the business.

The rules around protecting your assets may seem complex and confusing, so speak with a financial professional and tax attorney in your area. They can walk you through the details and help you develop a plan to protect your assets.

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