The Limited Liability Company (LLC) has more than fairly earned its reputation as an excellent foundation for asset protection. But even the trusty LLC isn’t the be-all and end-all of your asset protection strategy. LLC anonymity is another piece of the puzzle.
True, LLCs and Series LLCs make wonderful entities for protecting your real estate investments and other high-dollar assets, but did you know these entities can actually become even stronger? The secret component that can strengthen any investor’s asset protection plan is actually critical for preventing lawsuits and even keeps identity thieves at bay. If you haven’t yet guessed, that secret ingredient is anonymity. And there’s more than one way to achieve a truly anonymous LLC.
Let's look at a few of them now.
Don’t Assume Your LLC Is Already Anonymous
Unless you made a conscious choice to buy an anonymous LLC, odds are good that your traditional LLC has membership recorded somewhere on the public record. If that’s the case, don’t panic! You can still take proactive action to increase your anonymity.
But of course, the best thing any investor can do is not compromise anonymity in the first place.
In most states, members of LLCs must be recorded by the Secretary of State. Those sites are a quick web search away, so anyone who can type can find an LLC’s owners. For this reason, most LLCs aren’t truly anonymous. If you record your real name, you can be directly tied to your LLC, which means it’s not really protecting you.
Although there’s a surprising amount of consistency between traditional LLCs, each state’s asset protection laws are unique. Most investors don’t even take an up-close look at the state statutes for LLCs/series LLCs until they’re planning to buy an entity for themselves. If you’ve already established yours, you should know if you took anonymity steps.
If your attorney took these extra steps, to make sure your LLC was anonymous, your attorney likely would have mentioned it at the time of formation.
If you have specific questions about how protecting your anonymity preserves your hard work, speak with a qualified real estate attorney as well as an advisor who is familiar with your investment market(s). Let’s shift gears and dive into the decision-making process you’ll use to select the entity for your real estate investing business.
Options for Forming Anonymous LLCs
We’ve chosen two of the easiest methods any investor can use to form an anonymous LLC. Let’s break down two of the most common options for real estate investors who need anonymous LLCs.
Method #1: Use Land Trusts Alongside Your LLC Structure
The Anonymous Land Trust is commonly referred to as a title-holding trust, because that’s exactly what it does. These revocable trusts can be used in conjunction with LLCs in several ways.
First, a land trust may be the owner of an LLC. So even if you must record your LLC’s ownership for the public record, you can still remain personally anonymous. The harder you are to tie to your LLC, the better protected you are. Anyone who goes digging won’t see your name on the public record, or that of your other members if it’s a multi-member LLC. They’ll see the name of your anonymous land trust.
If you want total anonymity, you can even pre-select an individual to sign in your place on business documents. Regardless, you can enjoy the other benefits of the land trust, which include the ability to easily assign interest to new partners. Anyone in your LLC or even a joint venture-owned property in a trust can be made a beneficiary of the trust. One of the many lesser-known perks of the anonymous land trust is it makes adding investors and dividing property simple.
Method #2: Purchase an Anonymous LLC From a Service Offering One
Not all real estate attorneys or even asset protection professionals offer a pre-fabricated anonymous LLC, but those who do generally can substantiate what they’ve done to make their LLC truly anonymous. If their webpage doesn’t offer an explanation on the anonymity benefits of such an offering, you can even dial up the firm and ask questions.
Keep in mind that people in all sorts of positions pick up law firm phones, so you might get a great receptionist who takes a detailed note and gets you a callback, a busier staffer who simply takes your number, or you could luck out and get to talk to an attorney briefly about your question. Most firms have staffers who can help explain their products, so don’t assume only the attorney whose name you see on the sign is the only person who can help with your question. A reputable law firm will generally have many qualified people around to help you understand their services.
Knowing how to select a good law-firm option often comes down to asking the right questions. Some key things to look for if you’re not sure about an Anonymous LLC offering include these details:
- Is the Anonymous version of the product the only one available? If not, how does an Anonymous Traditional LLC differ from the firm’s standard Traditional LLC? Even if only anonymous versions are available, you can still ask for (and reasonably expect) an explanation.
- What about this product is the same or difference from a comparable LLC from another firm in the same state? If you find few differences, you make want to start asking questions.
- Does the Anonymous LLC product apply only to Traditional LLCs, or are there options for anonymizing Series LLCs too? If you really need a Series LLC, even an Anonymous LLC won’t be identical. It may be preferable to the common version, but you want to be sure you’re getting the entity you really want and need.
- Is the law firm transparent about how they achieve anonymity? Some may use the tactics on this list, and that’s great. We’ve listed these methods because we know they work.
If you’re willing and able to ask these questions, you can shop around and find the right offering for you. Don’t be afraid to look beyond your home state, either, particularly if you live in one that only offers the Traditional LLC. You may be able to solve two or more problems, like creating an out-of-state entity for real estate and managing multiple properties, with the Series LLC—an entity available in under 20 states.
Even if yours isn’t on the list of states currently offering Series LLCs, the good news is that REIs can select any state as “home base” for business. This is true no matter what kind of company you form. Learn more about the best states for forming LLCs or Series LLCs if you are considering making this type of move. You may also be interested in our article, Anonymity & The LLC: States Where Business Owners Love The Laws.
Bottom Line: Preserve Your Anonymity to Decrease Your Odds of Lawsuits
Let’s not lose sight of why anonymity is so important. An ideal asset protection plan must contain anonymity because personal anonymity is the easiest way to maintain legal distance from the liabilities associated with your real estate assets. Whether you achieve anonymity through vigilance about online conduct and information security, via anonymous land trusts, or by forming an anonymous LLC with an attorney’s help, you’ll find the peace of mind you get when you live free of worry is well worth the effort of creating your protections.