At Hoffman & Associates, we advise many of our clients to form limited liability companies, known as LLCs, to hold and protect their assets. In general, an owner of an LLC interest, or a “member” of the LLC, will not be responsible for any debts of the LLC, which is a win-win situation for the client. Further, if the member gets sued for something related to the LLC, such as the actions of an employee of the LLC or product liability from a product produced by the LLC, the member’s personal property will be shielded from the person suing the LLC.
Additionally, if a member is sued for something unrelated to the LLC, the member’s LLC interest will be somewhat shielded from that judgment creditor. Often the remedy for a judgment creditor against a member of an LLC is what is known as a “charging order,” which means they cannot take ownership of the LLC, but will be entitled to any LLC distributions to that Member.
However, in a few limited instances, a court will look through the LLC to get to a Member’s assets, known as “piercing the veil” of the LLC. Generally, this is done in the case of an LLC with only one member, which is the situation numerous clients find themselves in – they do not have a partner to add or do not want to add a partner to their business. Even with this risk, many clients will want to own the whole LLC themselves, which is a very simple structure, since all of the LLC’s taxes would pass through to that single member.
Often, states are more likely to pierce the veil or not limit the remedy to a charging order in the case of single-member LLCs, or SMLLCs. In fact, only a handful of states limit action against a member of a SMLLC to a charging order. Delaware, Nevada and Wyoming are the popular states that offer this statutory protection. If a client is focused on asset protection and does not want an additional LLC member, forming the LLC in one of these three states is the best course of action.
Even in a state that limits a remedy to a charging order, a court can still pierce the veil of a SMLLC if the LLC member does not respect the structure of the LLC. In a recent Wyoming case, Greenhunter Energy, Inc. v. Western, 2014 WY 144, (WY S.C., Nov. 7, 2014), the Wyoming Supreme Court completely disregarded a SMLLC because the Member did not treat the LLC like a separate operating entity. There were numerous problems in this case, but they are easily avoidable with a proper Operating Agreement and by respecting the LLC as a separate entity.
Some clients desire more anonymity. Delaware, Nevada, and Wyoming all require a manager’s name to be filed with the state, which becomes an easily accessible public record. If a client also desires anonymity, one option would be to form an LLC in a state that does not require a manager’s name to be listed (such as Georgia) and have that LLC serve as the manager of the SMLLC.
Although the SMLLC can be ineffective if not formed and used properly, as shown in the Greenhunter Energy case, it can be a great tool for those clients who have asset protection goals, even if they do not want to bring a partner into their business. If this is you or someone you know, please contact Hoffman & Associates to discuss a single-member LLC to protect your assets.