What Is an Asset Protection Attorney?
In Florida, an asset protection attorney is a lawyer that specializes in helping people protect their savings, earnings, and income from judgment creditors. The best asset protection attorneys understand the debt collection laws that creditors use to attack a judgment debtor’s assets and are knowledgeable about Florida’s constitutional and statutory exemption laws to know what assets are protected from creditors.
In addition, knowledge of bankruptcy law is essential because most case law applying Florida exemptions has occurred in bankruptcy court litigation. Last, a Florida asset protection attorney needs experience with estate planning and tax law to explain to the debtor any tax and estate planning consequences of asset transfers designed for creditor protection.
- An asset protection attorney specializes in helping people defend against collection from judgment creditors.
- Asset protection planning requires knowledge of multiple areas of law–including debt collection, bankruptcy, estate planning, and taxes.
- Proper asset protection planning can significantly improve a debtor’s negotiating position with a judgment creditor.
What a Florida Asset Protection Attorney Does
Asset protection is the process of arranging asset ownership in a manner that places assets beyond the reach of judgment creditors. A Florida asset protection attorney will design for each client a customized asset protection plan that takes advantage of Florida asset protection law for the client’s unique circumstances. The plan design is the most important part of the asset protection process.
The attorney’s initial step in the planning process is discovering and reviewing the client’s assets and family situation. The client must accurately describe all of his assets, including how each of his assets is legally owned and titled. Asset titling means the names of owners that appear on public records (land, cars, etc.) or documents (such as bank statements) that describe the asset. A client who is unsure how his assets are owned should provide his asset protection attorney with a copy of recent monthly statements and transfer documents.
Many people have interests in corporations or LLCs that operate businesses or own property. The Florida asset protection attorney needs to understand how the shares or membership interests in business entities are titled on the business records and business federal tax returns.
The asset protection lawyer also needs to know the client’s family situation—specifically, marriage status and legal dependents. Marriage and support obligations provide Florida residents with substantial asset protection tools.
How an Asset Protection Attorney Handles Ongoing Litigation
The Florida asset protection lawyer must know whether the client is a party in civil litigation or has been threatened with litigation. If there is already a money judgment entered against the client, the asset protection lawyer must know the judgment’s date, the amount, and the court that entered the judgment. The client must also tell the asset protection attorney whether the judgment creditor is actively attempting to collect an existing judgment by, for instance, requesting client financial records or scheduling an oral deposition in aid of collection.
Existing judgments and current litigation do not preclude asset protection planning. Still, the status of litigation or collection helps the Florida asset protection attorney know the client’s options for changes in the client’s non-exempt assets that will endure a fraudulent transfer challenge.
Exemption Assessment by the Attorney
Based upon the client’s description of assets and asset ownership, the asset protection attorney will explain which assets are exempt from creditors and which assets are non-exempt and vulnerable to judgment collection. The asset protection attorney will develop a plan to best protect the client’s non-exempt assets in light of the client’s litigation status and family situation.
An experienced asset protection attorney will confirm that the client understands each asset protection tool. He will describe the costs and likely effectiveness of alternative asset protection strategies given current Florida law.
Tip: You should come away from an attorney consultation knowing what assets are at risk and what options you have to protect them.
Attorney Implementation of Florida Asset Protection
An asset protection attorney should provide each client with choices of different asset protection tools to improve the client’s negotiating position with his creditors. Asset protection tools and strategies vary in their degree of complication, their costs, and probable effect.
The client, not the attorney, chooses which asset protection tools are most appropriate and affordable for the client’s situation. Once the client selects their asset protection tools, the client and the asset protection lawyer discuss an implementation plan.
The client and his attorney should understand what implementation work the client will handle and what legal work will be handled by the asset protection attorney. The client reasonably may ask his attorney for an estimate of the attorney’s legal fees and completion time for further legal services.
How to Find and Choose a Florida Asset Protection Attorney
As discussed above, asset protection is a narrow area of the law that involves several different areas of legal specialization. A competent asset protection attorney must have knowledge and experience in these legal fields, including experience with debt collection, estate planning, tax, and bankruptcy law. The attorney’s geographical location within Florida is not important especially given recent trends in video conferencing. More important is the attorney’s knowledge about applicable Florida law, the length of asset protection experience, and his professional reputation.