Asset protection is a crucial component of financial planning for any real estate investor. There are many tools you can use to keep your property out of the clutches of creditors and would-be-litigants, and we’ve talked about some of them a lot on this site.
While Land Trusts, Series LLCs, and anonymous trusts are some of my favorite tried-and-true asset protection methods, a financial planning tool that doesn’t get as much attention as it should is the personal property trust.
With this article, we're going to change that!
In general, a trust is a type of legal arrangement where a trustee holds title to specific property and manages it for the benefit of the trust’s beneficiaries. Trusts can be revocable, which means the trust can be altered or canceled at any time while the person establishing the trust is still alive. They can also be irrevocable, which means they cannot be modified or revoked.
Like a Land Trust or living trust, a personal property trust is a type of revocable trust. Whereas the Land Trust is used to hold real property, the personal property trust is used to hold title to personal property assets such as vehicles, boats and mobile homes.
Whenever an asset needs to be registered and included in public records, you can use a personal property trust to keep your ownership information private.
Since trustees must manage the trust assets as directed by the trust instrument, you can use a trust to transfer legal ownership and protect your identity while essentially maintaining complete control over the trust property. Generally, the sale of trust property requires approval from the beneficial owner, and the trustee cannot make the decision alone. Naming yourself as the beneficiary of a personal property trust can keep you in control of your assets.
The primary benefit of using a personal property trust is privacy. When you place your assets in a personal property trust, public record registrations will show the trust as the owner instead of listing your name. If you choose a privacy-protecting name for your trust, there will be no indications in the public record that you own the property.
A few additional benefits of using a personal property trust include:
As a real estate investor, there are several ways you can take advantage of the protections offered by a personal property trust. Here are a few of the most beneficial ways to use personal property trusts to help keep your real estate investments safe and private.
One of the most common uses of personal property trusts is to hold mortgages, since the ownership information for this type of asset can be found through a public records search. As a real estate investor, you may want to consider creating a separate personal property trust for each property for which you have a mortgage. This strategy will allow you to keep your ownership information private and avoid links between your various properties.
Savvy real estate investors often use an LLC to own real estate directly or name an LLC as the beneficiary of a Land Trust. To add another layer of separation and anonymity to your asset protection strategy, you can use a personal property trust to hold your membership interest in the LLC.
If you use an LLC as part of your real estate asset protection plan, it’s important to remember that, in most states, LLC membership is included as part of the public record. One way to keep your LLC interests private is to list a personal property trust as the LLC member and name yourself as the trust beneficiary.
Any vehicle—including cars, trucks, and motor homes—that must be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles is generally part of the public record, which can make your personal data open to public search. You can avoid this by titling your automobiles to a personal property trust.
Given its various uses, a personal property trust can be a valuable tool for real estate investors, as well as people who haven’t caught the real estate bug (yet). No matter how you use your personal property trust, it is a practical but often-overlooked component of a successful asset protection plan. When deciding what financial planning tools are best for your real estate investment plan, it’s vital that you seek the input of an experienced asset protection attorney.
Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.
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