What Can You Learn From a Two Bit Hustler?

By Wayne Patton

Be honest. What would be your initial impression of a person who overtly claims “I Will Teach You To Be Rich”? Fraudster, right? If a client called me and said he or she was reading a book by that title or taking a class taught by the author, my instinct would be to advise, “Run for your life. The guy’s a two bit hustler” . . . unless I had more information. In this case, rather than telling people to run away screaming, my suggestion is that you watch and learn.

Unbelievably, Ramit Sethi is the author of the New York Time Bestselling book and website I Will Teach You To Be Rich. So why am I writing about this guy, and what does it have to do with asset protection? I’ll answer that in just one second, after I take this opportunity to complain for a little while.

Diversity Isn’t Easy

It’s not easy writing content for you – my clients – because you are a diverse group. Your net worths range from $250k to well over $20 million. Included among the ranks are bestselling authors, entrepreneurs, people who have sold lucrative businesses, professors, doctors, lawyers, chiropractors, dentists, hedge fund owners, and retirees. Given the diversity of this group, it’s tough to find a common thread that appeals to everyone.

This is where Ramit Sethi enters the picture. His most recent endeavor has provided me with the common thread for this post. Even though I’ve never met the guy, I like Ramit because he once sent me two pints of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in the mail (you should all follow his lead on that one – and no, begging for ice cream is not the main point of this post). Ramit teaches a number of courses through his website. His sales strategy for those courses is compelling, and if you take the time to study it, you can see how it’s deeply rooted in the theory of persuasive psychology, as are most of the courses themselves.

I’ve personally checked with one of Ramit’s mentors, and what is publicly proclaimed over at IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com is in fact true. Ramit’s method is teach, teach, teach and then sell, after your credibility is beyond established in the eyes of most people. What’s amazing about the process is that there are no secrets. In one breath Ramit is openly discussing his favorite books and strategies, and in the next breath he executes on the same information and automagically turns readers into buyers.

Most of you won’t need any of Ramit’s publicly available courses (though I KNOW some of your offspring could benefit from learning how to make their first $1,000 or how to find a dream job – please call Ramit and not me with those complaints going forward), but you can still learn a whole hell of a lot from watching this guy.

Drumroll For The Main Point

Asset Protection Fun
Hooray! The main point is here!

Ramit’s latest (soon to be offered) course is in the fact the main point. Up to now, I’ve curiously watched Ramit sell knowledge that is practical and applicable in the real world – things like entrepreneurship and social skills. It’s been a breath of fresh air from all the real fraudsters out there who have never been successful at anything other than unsuccessfully telling people how to be successful (isn’t that some sort of universe-ending paradox?).

No, I’m sold on the fact that Ramit knows what he’s talking about and, more importantly, knows what he’s doing. I want to focus on the latter.

Ramit, a proven talent, is scheduled to launch a new course – one that shows students how to be successful online. That set my wheels a’turning, but not because any of you would be interested in the course.

Here’s why Ramit’s online course about creating online courses fascninates me (read between the lines here): Assume for a second that Ramit is a brilliant investor. What can we learn from the fact that Ramit is launching a course like this? Don’t think about the course content (though in a circular way, it is also the answer). Think about what Ramit is doing for himself in launching this course.

(Sidebar: Maybe I’m way too jaded, but I almost always ask myself what authors are doing for themselves with their writing, rather than what they are trying to give me. Try it . . . .)

The Real IP Man

Ramit is actually teaching folks how to create intellectual property. In the process, he is creating intellectual property for himself. Very simple.

Even though most of Ramit’s potential clients probably think they just want passive income, what they really want – and what you should want – is intellectual property that can spin off money like kids flying off a merry-go-round. Those of us who are lawyers, doctors, dentists, and in any other service industry won’t likely have anything other than cash, equities, bonds, and maybe some real estate to pass on to our children – those of you who are authors and creators of other types of IP, you inspire me!

Ramit has created a nice little catalogue of IP for himself.

I can just imagine the year 2120. Ramit’s great grandchildren trot out some classic courses taught by “Old Timer Ramit” and inject their own personality into selling the timeless information, just as Ramit does now. It’s somehow reminiscent of Tony Stark – yes, Iron Man – showing videos of his dad at the Stark Expo. More aptly, it reminds me of a scene from Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the one where the Chinese investor says something to the effect of “I’m interested in 100 years from now, when my grandchildren can spend the money.”

Asset protection is about having a vision for tomorrow. That includes protective mechanisms, sure, but it also includes the most important aspect of investing: Asset allocation. Intellectual property should be somewhere in your portfolio alongside commercial real estate (or notes), stocks, bonds, cash, and commodities.

The point is this: In my opinion, if you want to create massive wealth that can be protected and preserved, intellectual property is a pretty good bet, assuming you have the skill and talent to create something that is in demand and timeless. If you don’t have the skill and talent, invest in someone who does. Of course, there are issues. IP isn’t legally protected forever. But you can personally protect it. E.g. Coca Cola will keep it’s formulas a trade secret until infinity happens.

Exponential Growth With No Estate Tax

At current rates, a married couple can pass $10.5 million to their heirs free of estate tax ($5.25 million for a single person). Right now, today – before a single subscription has been sold – what is the value of Ramit’s upcoming course? I would argue the tax basis, or the cost of creating the course. After all, it could end up being a total flop, so I don’t advocate for a valuation based on his past success (though I would bet on his past success if given the opportunity to invest). This disconnect between past success and current valuation creates an opportunity.

So, the course could be valued modestly and contributed to a structure that would allow any appreciation in value to accrue to his heirs estate tax free (e.g. a dynasty trust of some sort). What if that course had been created inside of a structure that had already been gifted to his heirs (or in some creative ways using other family members, if he doesn’t already have children)? The answer is that he could potentially pass on massive wealth while still retaining a lot of the present day benefits of his work.

Here’s the beautiful part: What other asset class has the ability to appreciate from virtually zero one day (think of Emminem writing a song on a scrap of paper while riding the train) to millions of dollars the next day (think of Emminem driving his Bentley)? Sure, there are some investments that can do that. Most are incredibly speculative, and I don’t recommend them. I would, however, invest in Ramit Sethi’s business of creating and selling IP.

Allowing for exponential growth inside a protected and tax free structure is how generational wealth is created and preserved. It’s how visionaries happily make money today that their grandchildren can spend in a hundred years.

Watch Ramit Sethi, guys. You can learn a lot from that two bit hustler, if you read between the lines.

The $125 Million Target On Lance Armstrong’s Back

By: M. Wayne Patton

I wrote previously about the things we can all learn from OJ Simpson (besides how to get away with murder). Now Lance Armstrong is about to teach us all a thing or two about asset protection planning.

Lance Armstrong has an estimated net worth of about $125 million. The one thing $125 million will definitely buy you in the wake of a doping scandal is a giant target to hang on your back. So Lance Armstrong has discovered, as he’s now being sued by the U.S. Government and several other private companies.

The Justice Department is suing Armstrong to recover sponsorship money paid to him by the United States Postal Service between 2001 and 2004, even though studies have shown that those sponsorships yielded significant returns to the USPS in the same years. The gist of the lawsuit is simply that the USPS has been irreparably damaged in subsequent years by its close affiliation with the doping cyclist.

Bandwagon Litigation

Other have jumped on the lawsuit bandwagon, but in a different context than you might expect. The Dallas-based promotions company SCA is suing Lance Armstrong to recover $12 million in bonuses it paid to him for winning multiple Tour de France titles. The irony is that SCA originally refused to pay the bonuses because of allegations that Armstron had violated anti-doping rules. Armstrong vehemently protested and filed suit against SCA. Armstrong’s suit eventually settled with SCA paying him $7.5 million. Now SCA wants that money back, as does a London based newspaper that paid Armstrong a $500,000 settlement over allegations of libel related to doping.

It’s very atypical for settled cases to be reopened, but it seems that Armstrong could be the poster child for a new precedent, since he so clearly lied to everyone except Oprah.

Lance Armstrong and Asset Protection

Time will surely tell if Lance Armstrong has any asset protection in place other than a corporation called Tailwind that was the contracting party with Armstrong’s sponsors. As the New York Times reported, “Mr. Armstrong put a layer of legal protection between himself and the money. And if nothing else, it shows that he has had good legal counsel over the years.” But a simple corporation might not be enough in the wake of the biggest doping scandal to date.

Lance should just feel lucky that he’s being pursued by Nike, the sports giant that been jilted at that alter of sponsoring athletes so many times it doesn’t know what to do.

Protect Assets From Lawsuits

By: M. Wayne Patton

Is it truly possible to completely protect assets from lawsuits? Some people don’t think so. For example, a New York Times Article recently quoted one asset protection attorney as comparing legal planning to setting up roadblocks that are expensive for creditors to smash.

Protect Assets From Lawsuits

Those roadblocks can be toppled, but every time you knock one over, it costs the creditor a lot of money, sometimes up to $500,000. So in most cases the creditors and their attorneys (who often work for contingency fees) choose to settle and take the easy dollars.

To most people, the words “asset protection” conjure images of offshore bank accounts reserved for the ulta wealthy or James Bonds of the world. But that’s a narrow view. Almost everyone needs some sort of asset protection, even if it’s just intended to protect the equity in a home. Professionals with above average risk of being sued like architects, doctors, and lawyers also need to pay special attention to their potential exposure and take special steps to protect assets from lawsuits.

The First Step In Protecting Assets From Lawsuits

The first thing to do is assess what assets you have and which of those assets are already exempt under applicable laws. Asset exemption vary from state to state. For example, primary residences or “homesteads” in Florida are absolutely protected against creditor claims. Most states don’t provide exemptions as generous as the Florida homestead exemption, but all states do provide some statutory protections for things like IRA accounts, life insurance policies, annuities, etc.

After an initial assessment, you have to “wear the hat” of someone who would be suing you. This seems weird, but it’s absolutely critical if you want to protect assets from lawsuits. This is why it makes a lot of sense to hire an asset protection attorney who has experience pursuing debtors in addition to protecting assets. Having an attorney who has worked on both sides of the ball can only help your cause in protecting your assets from lawsuits.

Insurance and Trusts

When looking at a lawsuit from the standpoint of a creditor, what you want is the easily accessible pot of money. Insurance is the first thing that most creditor attorneys look for, because insurance companies are required by law to pay the claims of their insured. You can bet that having some insurance is a smart asset protection play in the context of lawsuits. If nothing else, you need to have a policy that covers your attorney fees.

Just like insurance, trusts need to be put in place before trouble is on the horizon. You can’t call an insurance agent and ask for fire insurance while your house is on fire. The same applies to trusts. They are prophylactic in nature, and you need to put them in place before the fires start. That’s true whether you want to create a traditional trust to protect assets for your children, a domestic asset protection trust (a.k.a. DAPT), or a self-settled offshore asset protection trust. They need to be put in place well in advance, if you intend for them to protect assets from lawsuits.

The trick is to put a plan in place today that protects you against a lawsuit being filed by some unknown creditor in the future. 

Fraudulent Conveyance In Simple Terms

By: M. Wayne Patton

A fraudulent conveyance can totally defeat an asset protection plan, no matter how good the plan itself may be. Laws regarding fraudulent conveyances (a.k.a. fraudulent transfers) make certain types of transfers wrongful. This shouldn’t be confused with the concept of fraud or anything else illegal. I know, I know . . . the use of the word “fraud” in and of itself is scary, but a fraudulent conveyance isn’t illegal and has nothing to do with actual fraud. If a court finds that a fraudulent transfer or conveyance has occurred, then the court merely sets aside (a.k.a. claws back) those transfers. Pretty simple.

What Is A Fraudulent Conveyance

In basic terms, a fraudulent conveyance is any transfer or sale of assets that is intended to “hinder, delay, or defraud” a legitimate creditor.

Prohibited transfers include conveyance made within a certain period of time before a claim is made or while a claim is pending. What is a claim? Claims take many forms. Claims can be lawsuits, but they are also more broadly defined and can include things like demand letters or even accidents where an injured person has yet to contact the person at fault. The crazy thing is that under the Bankruptcy Code section 548 and the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (which has been adopted by all but a handful of states), a transfer can be deemed fraudulent even if no claim exists when the property is transfered. The Bankruptcy Code has a two year “look back” window, for example.

Example of a Fraudulent Conveyance

Consider an oral surgeon or dentist (“doctor”) who is not properly insured. If this doctor accidentally causes injury to a patient during a surgical procedure, the patient clearly has a “claim” on the day the injury occurs. If the patient sues the doctor, then the doctor’s personal assets are at risk, in addition to whatever insurance limits are in place. The doctor’s personal assets include cash, stocks, bonds, investment properties, and in some cases even items like cars, boats and airplanes.

What we’ve established so far is that a doctor with assets has caused an injury. Assume that no lawsuit has been filed. Even though there is not a lawsuit pending, there is a “claim” against the doctor. The doctor knows that she or he could end up owing money to the patient, and that is enough. What can the doctor do to protected his wealth from a lawsuit?

The answer is complex.  While the doctor stills owns and controls his or her assets and can continue to move them around, if the doctor moves assets to a place where they cannot be reached by the injured patient (or if they are sold for less than fair value), then a court can “set aside” those transfers of assets. The bottom line is that a court can require transferred assets to be given to the injured patient, even if the doctor is no longer legally and technically the owner of the assets.

In other words, once a claim exists, it is too late to protect most assets, and you need at least a two year window before transfers can be respected in the context of bankruptcy. While one can continue transferring and investing assets while a claim is pending, it is almost impossible for an asset protection attorney to develop a plan that would make assets immune from being deemed a fraudulent conveyance at that point. The moral of the story is that people with assets who are engaged in professional practices (e.g. doctors, dentists, lawyers, real estate developers, etc.) need to engage an asset protection attorney before claims surface. That is the only way to develop and tailored an effective asset protection strategy to meet individual needs.

It is true that some assets, in some states, are exempt assets and automatically protected by statute. But if you are a person with assets that go beyond exempt assets (e.g. if you have a stock portfolio outside of your retirement account), then you should consider proactively pursuing an asset protection strategy.

Ethical Considerations of Asset Protection Services

By: M. Wayne Patton

Many companies and individuals offering asset protection provide misleading (if not really detrimental) advice in an effort to line their own pockets. Unscrupulous promoters and marketers will often tout the universal benefits of foreign asset protection trusts  (“offshore trusts”), Nevada corporations, land trusts, complex corporate structures, and mechanisms that “make assets disappear” or at least make them very difficult to find.  The truth is that each individual client in need of asset protection services is just that: An individual, and each situation is unique.

The Sale of Asset Protection Services

Reputable asset protection attorneys customize tools and services to the needs of the client. There is no universally “right” answer or plan that fits every situation. It is simply unethical and morally wrong to represent that any asset protection “package” meets the needs of every potential client. In my opinion, it constitutes malpractice. If you are considering a prepackaged asset protection plan sold through a seminar or website, then we strongly encourage you to at least obtain a second opinion on the appropriateness of such plan from a reputable practitioner of asset protection law.

Ethical Considerations From the Client Perspective

asset protection ethical considerations

Aside from ethical and malpractice issues concerning the marketing and promotion of asset protection and offshore trusts, there is one prevalent question that you must answer before engaging an asset protection lawyer: “Is asset protection right for me from an ethical standpoint?” Here are a few of the ethical rules that we operate under:

  1. Asset Protection is separate and apart from taxation planning, except in the context of estate planning. In order for an asset protection plan to actually work–for it to protect your assets–it cannot be used a mechanism to avoid income  taxes.
  2. Asset protection is not about lying or hiding assets.  Under no circumstances should an asset protection plan require you to lie, “lay low,” or otherwise do anything except be completely honest about your plan. That’s true whether you’re under oath or simply filling out a loan application.
  3. Asset protection is not a license to act recklessly or illegally. We require our clients to maintain a high standard of responsible personal and business practices. We always recommend that professionals carry liability insurance sufficient to cover accidents that may occur when such policies are reasonably available.  Good asset protection planning is never an excuse to disregard the welfare of other people or their property.
  4. Asset protection is about carefully following the rules of the game and staying within the strictures of the law. Some plaintiff’s attorneys will take full advantage of any chance they get to deprive wealthy individuals of their assets, but in order to be successful, they must operate within the confines of the law.  Asset protection is the other side of the coin.  It’s your opportunity to take full advantage of the legal system before trouble crops up.

In short, asset protection lawyers  should strive to allow clients to determine the extent of their legal exposure to losses. Risk assessment and due diligence is part of every transaction. From a business perspective, full disclosure of the existence of corporate entities and trusts is highly recommended. Once disclosure is made, it’s up to the other party to conduct their diligence and determine if they want to undertake the risk and transact business. Nothing is hidden from sight. In terms of professional liability, again we stress the importance of insurance policies intended to compensate injured parties for actual damages, but in all circumstances you should look for opportunities to limit and predefine the limit of such liability in order to deter plaintiff’s attorneys from targeting you. By adhering to high personal standards and acting responsibly, it should be clear that you can ethically take full advantage of the services offered by legitimate asset protection lawyers.