The Sliding Scale of Asset Protection
The most common misconception among Doctors regarding asset protection is the idea that an asset is either “protected” or “unprotected.” This “black or white” analysis is no more accurate in the field of asset protection than it is in the field of medicine. In fact, asset protection advisors are very similar to physicians in how they approach any client or patient. In this chapter, we will discuss the way in which advisors measure a client’s assets by using a sliding scale. Then we will suggest ways in which Doctors can protect assets, avoid high-risk assets and achieve a high level of protection.
The Sliding Scale And Scores
To measure the assets of a client, advisors use a sliding scale that indicates the client’s “good” and “bad” financial habits. Like Doctors, asset protection professionals will first try to get a client to avoid “bad habits.” For a medical patient, bad habits might mean smoking, drinking too much or maintaining a poor diet. For a client of ours, bad habits might include owning property in their own name, owning property jointly with a spouse or failing to maximize the percentage of exempt assets in an investment portfolio.
Like a Doctor who judges the severity of a patient’s illness, asset protection specialists use a rating system to determine the protection or vulnerability of a client’s particular asset. The sliding scale runs from-5 (totally vulnerable) to +5 (superior protection). As you have probably already guessed, our goal is to bring a client’s score closer to (+5) for each of their assets.
When most clients initially come to see us, their asset planning scores are overwhelmingly on the negative side of the scale. The reason for this score varies. Typically, personal assets are owned jointly (-3) or in their individual name (-5). Both of these ownership forms provide little protection from lawsuits and may also have negative tax and estate planning implications. More
Creating Your Practice’s $1 Million Retirement Buyout
One of the most common complaints we hear from Doctors is that they are frustrated that their decades of hard work are not building anything of concrete financial value. In other words, Doctors are frustrated that their practice will not be “worth anything” when they retire. As a result, they cannot “sell it” and enjoy a lucrative exit from the practice of medicine the way other business owners can with their non-medical businesses.
It is certainly true that the days of an outside practice management firm coming in and purchasing a Doctor’s practice for millions of dollars are long gone. On the other hand, there are a number of tactics a Doctor can employ to create a $1 million “buy-out fund.” We are not talking about the funded Buy-Sell arrangement that applies to unforeseen circumstances such as a disability or premature death of a partner. The buy-out funds we will discuss here are mechanisms to exit a practice at the Doctor’s chosen retirement time and take over $1 million out at that point. Of course, this would also be in addition to whatever the Doctor has in qualified retirement plans and other personal assets.
Buyout Funding Options
As you will see below, each of these tools require periodic funding over time. With the compound growth over an entire career, a Doctor can create significant retirement buy-out funds over 10, 20, or 30 years. A nice bonus is that the funds can grow on a tax-deferred or tax-free basis in most of these arrangements. With all of these tools, Doctors have two potential ways of funding them:
A. Solo Practice Model
Here, the Doctor in question simply takes advantage of one or more of the tools below and funds them from the practice. This approach is certainly better than not funding them at all, thanks to the asset protection and potential tax benefits that many of these tools afford. These options force the Doctor to build the buy-out fund with dollars that might otherwise be spent on personal consumption. Therefore, any and all of these tools can be used in the one-Doctor model.
B. Group Practice Model
In this model, in addition to the potential tax, asset protection, and forced savings benefits, Doctors enjoy another crucial benefit described earlier on in the book. They get to use other people’s money (OPM) to achieve a long-term goal. OPM is involved here because each of these tools can be Leveraged in a way that older Doctors of the practice require the younger Doctors (partners or not) to contribute into these vehicles. While the contributions go partly to their own buy-out fund, part of it could also fund the buy-out of older Doctors. When these younger Doctors become more senior, they too will benefit from this arrangement and the funding by younger Doctors at that time. This “pyramid” model is common in professional firms outside medicine, such as consulting or law firms.
Buyout Funding Tools
As you will see below, all of the major buyout funding tools are arrangements that we have already described earlier in this Lesson. Let’s examine each of them again briefly and review how they apply to the goal of creating a buyout retirement fund.
1. LLC Lease Back
A valuable piece of equipment or the practice’s office can be transferred to an LLC and then leased back to the practice entity. As explained before, this provides asset protection for the practice (vis-à-vis claims from the property or equipment), the property/ equipment (from claims against the practice), and for the Doctors (from both).
The LLC lease back works as a buyout funding tool through the rent paid by the practice to the LLC. Each month the practice will pay tax-deductible rent to the LLC. In the solo practice model, the Doctor could utilize a gifting program for the LLC interests and, over time, get the benefit of lower tax bracket “borrowing” of children or grandchildren. Proceeds remain inside the LLC, asset protected at a (+2) level. They can be managed by professionals in a tax-favored way and build up over time to create a buyout fund. More