This question always comes up when discussing and designing an asset protection program for a physician who has significant non-exempt assets that can be attached by current or potential creditors. In most cases, a limited liability company (LLC) will generally provide better asset protection to its owner than a corporation. However you must seek legal counsel to help you design an asset protection program that is right for you and your own particular business and financial situation. Like having a personal will in place, asset protection should be a priority to you.
A limited liability company (“LLC”) is a hybrid type of legal entity that has some characteristics of a corporation and some characteristics of a partnership. Owners of an LLC are called members; they can elect to receive pass through tax treatment like a partnership or an S corporation, or to have the LLC taxed like a C corporation; they have limited liability like in a corporation; and they have a great deal of flexibility in management structure. Thus, many business owners now prefer to form an LLC instead of a corporation when the need for an additional entity arises.
LLCs provide significant asset protection advantages. A creditor of an owner of a corporation (that is, a creditor of a stockholder) often can gain control of a corporation by getting control of the owner’s stock. Shares of stock in a corporation are assets that can be “attached” or otherwise taken by a creditor to satisfy a judgment against the owner of the shares. Once the creditor has control of the shares, it can generally vote the shares and possibly gain control of the business entity. Thus, if you own all the stock of ABC Corporation and one of your creditors is able to take that stock, the creditor will control (and own) ABC Corporation. A membership interest in an LLC, however, is treated differently. A creditor of the owner of an LLC, generally cannot gain control of the member’s interest, because LLCs have what is called “charging order protection." If and when the LLC makes a distribution to you, the creditor can take it. However, the creditor generally cannot force a distribution or gain voting control of the LLC. The bottom line is that a creditor of the owner of an LLC membership interest has much less leverage than a creditor of an owner of stock in a corporation.