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Monthly Archives: February 2015

Illinois LLCs – The Asset Protection Advantage

Illinois LLCs – The Asset Protection Advantage

A Technical Analysis

Among sophisticated investors and other high-asset/high-net worth individuals and businesses, the topic of “asset protection” is bound to arise. As many became painfully aware during the recent Great Recession, bad things can happen to good people. In my article Asset Protection – Lessons Learned, I discussed how properly structuring one’s holdings could have prevented, or at least mitigated, much of the financial devastation and anguish experienced by business owners, investors, real estate developers, doctors and others caught off-guard by the drastic economic collapse of 2007-2010.

RSP_LogoFull_2PMSOften, there is confusion about what the term asset protection really means. Some imagine a shadowy network of off-shore trusts and secret bank accounts in foreign lands set up by unscrupulous characters to cheat innocent creditors. This is simply not true. In this article I will not debate the claimed pros and cons of secret bank accounts and so-called off-shore asset protection trusts. I will say, however, that under most circumstances, they don’t work for U.S. citizens residing in the U.S.A.

Legitimate asset protection is nothing more or less than properly ordering one’s business and financial affairs in a way that does not unnecessarily expose all assets to claims of creditors.

The right of persons and businesses to limit their liability and exposure of their assets to claims of creditors is the well settled in the U.S.A. The United States of America, and each individual state, has a plethora of laws authorizing and recognizing the legitimacy of corporations and other limited liability entities as a means by which an investor can segregate assets and limit exposure to liability.

No person has a legal or moral obligation to structure his or her affairs in a way that makes it easy for a creditor of one business or professional enterprise to attach assets of the investor not committed to that enterprise. This protection may be impinged if the person or business engages in conduct tantamount to fraud, but actions explicitly authorized by applicable statute can hardly be characterized as being fraudulent. Fraud is an intentional tort requiring, among other elements, intentional breach of a duty owed to the person claimed to be harmed. If a statute expressly authorizes conduct, it implicitly, if not explicitly, negates any duty to act in a manner contrary to that authorized by the statute.

This article presents a technical analysis of certain asset protection attributes of an Illinois limited liability company expressly authorized by the Illinois Limited Liability Company Act, 805 ILCS 180/1-1 et seq (the “Illinois LLC Act”). The remarkably robust asset protection value of an Illinois limited liability company is measured by two key attributes:

1. The ability, expressly authorized by the Illinois LLC Act, to include in an LLC operating agreement provisions that protect the limited liability company and its business and assets from claims owed to others by members of the LLC – an attribute that creates a huge advantage vs. a corporation, as discussed in Part I, below; and

2. Enhanced protection of Members and Managers from liability for debts, contracts and torts incurred by the LLC, or resulting from acts or omissions of a Member or Manager while acting on behalf of the LLC, to an extent measurably greater than the protection afforded officers, directors and shareholders of a corporation.

Although one might reasonably expect that the order in which these key attributes are discussed would be reversed, the Part I discussion precedes the Part II discussion because the matters to be discussed in Part I are best considered at the outset, when the operating agreement is being drafted; while the matters discussed in Part II will most directly apply later, once a judgment creditor is seeking to enforce its judgment.

PART I: Key Statutory Provisions to Consider When Drafting the Operating Agreement

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POP QUIZ! — Commercial Real Estate Due Diligence

R. Kymn Harp Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

R. Kymn Harp
Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

I read once that if you took all the lawyers in the world and laid them end to end along the equator — it would be a good idea to leave them there.

That’s what I read. What do you suppose that means?

I have written before about the need to exercise due diligence when purchasing commercial real estate. The need to investigate, before Closing, every significant aspect of the property you are acquiring. The importance of evaluating each commercial real estate transaction with a mindset that once the Closing occurs, there is no going back. The Seller has your money and is gone. If post-Closing problems arise, Seller’s contract representations and warranties will, at best, mean expensive litigation. CAVEAT EMPTOR! [“Let the buyer beware!”]

Paying extra attention at the beginning of a commercial real estate transaction to “get it right” can save tens of thousands of dollars versus when a deal goes bad. It’s like the old Fram® oil filter slogan during the 1970’s: “You can pay me now – or pay me later”. In commercial real estate, however, “later” may be too late.

Buying commercial real estate is NOT like buying a home. It is not. It is not. It is NOT.

In Illinois, and many other states, virtually every residential real estate closing requires a lawyer for the buyer and a lawyer for the seller. This is probably smart. It is good consumer protection.

The “problem” this causes, however, is that every lawyer handling residential real estate transactions considers himself or herself a “real estate lawyer”, capable of handling any real estate transaction that may arise.

We learned in law school that there are only two kinds of property: real estate and personal property. Therefore – we intuit – if we are competent to handle a residential real estate closing, we must be competent to handle a commercial real estate closing. They are each “real estate”, right?

ANSWER: Yes, they are each real estate. No, they are not the same.

The legal issues and risks in a commercial real estate transaction are remarkably different from the legal issues and risks in a residential real estate transaction. Most are not even remotely similar. Attorneys concentrating their practice handling residential real estate closings do not face the same issues as attorneys concentrating their practice in commercial real estate.

It is a matter of experience. You either know the issues and risks inherent in commercial real estate transactions – and know how to deal with them – or you don’t.

A key point to remember is that the myriad consumer protection laws that protect residential home buyers have no application to – and provide no protection for – buyers of commercial real estate.

Competent commercial real estate practice requires focused and concentrated investigation of all issues material to the transaction by someone who knows what they are looking for. In short, it requires the experienced exercise of due diligence.

I admit – the exercise of due diligence is not cheap, but the failure to exercise due diligence can create a financial disaster for the commercial real estate investor. Don’t be “penny wise and pound foolish”. If you are buying a home, hire an attorney who regularly represents home buyers. If you are buying commercial real estate, hire an attorney who regularly represents commercial real estate buyers.

Years ago I stopped handling residential real estate transactions. As an active commercial real estate attorney, even I hire residential real estate counsel for my own home purchases. I do that because residential real estate practice is fundamentally different from commercial real estate.

Maybe I do harp on the need for competent counsel experienced in commercial real estate transactions. I genuinely believe it. I believe it is essential. I believe if you are going to invest in commercial real estate, you must apply your critical thinking skills and be smart.

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POP QUIZ:

Here’s a simple test of YOUR critical thinking skills:

Please read the following Scenarios and answer the questions TRUE or FALSE: (more…)

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