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.
Often, 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