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Forming an LLC Articles and Resources

Why Some Licensed Professionals in California Can Form an LLC, But Most Cannot

Why Some Licensed Professionals in California Can Form an LLC, But Most Cannot

By: Ted Sutton, Esq.

Mike has worked as an attorney at a large San Francisco law firm for five years. After graduating law school and passing the California bar exam, he was hired as an associate at the firm. Like many others in Mike’s position, he regularly worked 90-hour work weeks with little vacation time. This workload has led to a whole host of health-related issues, including anxiety and sleep deprivation. Overwhelmed with what he had gone through over the last five years, Mike decided it was time to make a change. He took a leap of faith and decided to become a solo practitioner. This would give him the freedom to set his own hours, control his workload, and improve his overall wellbeing.

 

The first step for Mike was to determine what type of entity to form. At first, Mike thought that he would be fine forming an LLC for his practice. However, after doing some research, he discovered that California only allows for attorneys to practice under professional corporations and limited liability partnerships. Mike, along with many other licensed professionals in California, are not allowed to form an LLC for their business.

 

As a general matter, if your job requires a license and/or you render professional services, you cannot form an LLC for your line of work in California. The California Corporations Code provides very few exceptions to this rule, most notably for contractors. This short list is as follows:

Licensed Professionals Allowed to Form an LLC in California:

  • Alarm companies
  • Alcoholic beverage licensees
  • Cemetery authority
  • Contractor
  • Foreign labor contractors
  • Gambling enterprise owners
  • Home improvement salespersons
  • Horse racing track operators
  • Outdoor advertising
  • Private investigators
  • Seller of travel
  • Surplus medication collection and distribution intermediaries

But because most licensed professions do not fall under this list, you are much better off forming a professional corporation at the beginning.

 

California has a few requirements to properly form a professional corporation. First, the articles of incorporation must clearly state that the corporation is a professional corporation. Second, all shareholders, directors, and officers must be licensed professionals in California. However, the corporation may employ non-licensed professionals.

 

Mike is happy that he did his research. After learning of California’s restrictions, he properly formed a professional corporation, indicating such in the articles of incorporation. He was the only shareholder, director, and officer because he is the only one in the business that is licensed to practice law in California. He also planned on hiring one paralegal and one secretary to assist him, neither of whom would serve as shareholders, directors, or officers. Mike has checked all the boxes. He can now practice law on his own terms under his newly formed professional corporation.

 

Professional corporations are also subject to the same rules that apply to other corporations. They must obtain an EIN from the IRS, maintain corporate records, and file annual reports with the California Secretary of State. A professional corporation can be taxed either as an S Corporation or a C Corporation. Because Mike’s CPA suggested using an S Corporation to help minimize payroll taxes, Mike, like most other professionals, chose the S Corporation. Other laws relating to the practice of each licensed profession may also apply to each professional corporation.

 

It is also worth mentioning that California also allows some licensed professionals, including lawyers, accountants, and engineers, to practice through a limited liability partnership. But because Mike is a solo practitioner and has no other partners, he will have to form a professional corporation.

 

If you are a licensed professional in California, be aware that you most likely will not be able to form an LLC for your practice. To properly form your professional corporation in California, we here at Corporate Direct will be happy to assist you.

 

How LLCs Can Protect Doctors

By: Ted Sutton

Doctors are frequent targets of medical malpractice suits. This is why many of them have malpractice insurance to cover these claims. But what happens when the insurance does not cover the full amount? In this situation, the last thing doctors want is to have their personal assets exposed. Fortunately, doctors have a few options to protect their assets.

Forming an LLC for their Practice

The first thing doctors can do is set up an entity for their practice. The entity must be formed in the state where the doctor is licensed to practice, and each state has different requirements. Some states allow doctors to simply form an LLC for their practice. Others such as California require doctors to set up a Professional Corporation (PC). A third group of states, including Illinois, require doctors to set up a Professional Limited Liability Company (PLLC). For the latter two categories, entity owners must be licensed members of their respective profession.

Forming an LLC for their personal assets

Using an entity for a medical practice is useful to protect against a slip and fall or other accidents on the premises. But what happens when the doctor is sued personally? A malpractice claim is personal, meaning the doctor can’t hide behind the entity. The patient, after collecting against malpractice coverage, can reach the doctor’s personal assets. Having a separate LLC for personal assets can prevent an easy taking.

To insulate from personal liability, many doctors use LLCs to hold title to personal assets, including stock portfolios and real estate holdings. But the patient may still attach the doctor’s interest in the LLC to pay their claim. Choosing which state to form the LLC makes the biggest difference in what the patient can collect.

Form an LLC in a Strong State

Some states, including Wyoming, offer better protection for one simple reason: the charging order. This order only allows the patient to collect any distributions the doctor may receive, and gives them no right to participate in the LLC’s management.

In Wyoming, the charging order is the only way that the patient can collect anything from the LLC. You do not have to make any distributions from a stock portfolio. So if no distributions from the LLC are made, the patient collects nothing. This can aid doctors, especially if the LLC holds valuable assets.

Other states, including California, have weaker protections. Contrary to only allowing the patient to receive distributions, a California court may force the sale of the doctor’s LLC to pay the claim. Do doctors want this to happen? Of course not, and fortunately, this scenario can be minimized. By forming the LLC in a state with better protection, the doctor is better protected.

Conclusion

Doctors must not only consider an entity for their practice, but also an LLC for their personal assets. When faced with a claim, these considerations make the difference between how much or how little a claimant can collect.

Multi-Member LLCs: Structure and Issues

By: Ted Sutton

LLC structure with regard to members

Graham has been a prominent real estate investor for over a decade. After coming from humble beginnings, he has built a large portfolio that holds over 100 properties. He decided to teach people how he did it, so he started making YouTube videos. Graham figured this would be a good opportunity for him to both educate a younger audience and generate a second stream of passive income. Over time, Graham began to build a large following. He also met many like-minded YouTubers along the way. He became especially close with Jaspreet, Marko, and Natalie.

Given their popularity, Graham and other three YouTubers decided to make a financial education super-conglomerate. A one-stop shop for financial education organized under one business entity. This fearsome foursome formed an LLC, contributed capital, and received membership interests in return.

This article illustrates how multi-member LLCs are formed, managed, and continued after a member departs. Each will be discussed in detail below, continuing with the example above.

What is a member? 

A member is an individual or an entity that owns an ownership interest in an LLC.

Here, Graham, Jaspreet, Marko, and Natalie are all members. A chart reflects their membership interests:

Multi Member LLC Graphic 1

When Entities Are Members 

LLCs are also allowed to be owned by another legal entity. In many cases, they are owned by another LLC. They can also be owned by a corporation.

The entity’s ownership must be reflected in both the Operating Agreement and the meeting minutes. When one LLC owns another LLC, the Manager from the entity with the authority to sign should sign both the Operating Agreement and minutes.

Marko has a very large stock portfolio. Because he is concerned about personal liability, he set up an LLC to hold his paper assets and another to hold his syndication interests. These two are owned by a passive Wyoming holding LLC. He then decides to have his Wyoming holding LLC own the new Financial Education LLC. This provides an extra layer of protection between Marko personally, and his interest in the financial education LLC. He signs both the Operating Agreement and the meeting minutes as the manager of his LLC. A chart illustrates Marko’s ownership interest below:

Multi Member LLC Graphic 2

If Marko is sued personally (after a car wreck, for example) a victim will have to fight through Wyoming’s very strong protections to try and get at Marko’s paper assets, syndication and financial education interests.

Ownership percentages 

Members can own different ownership percentages in an LLC. Generally, ownership percentages are based off the member’s capital contributions. However, members are also free to allocate the ownership percentages that have an economic basis in any manner that makes economic sense.

Graham has been a successful real estate investor who has a large portfolio. Since his net worth is significantly higher than the remaining members, he agrees to contribute $1 million to the Financial Education, LLC. Because Graham also manages each of his rental properties, he decides to take a more passive role in the LLC. He agrees to own a 10% membership interest. Jaspreet, Marko, and Natalie agree to run the operations and own 30% each. But Graham wants a priority return on his money, since he is putting up the most. It is agreed that he will receive the first $1,500,000 in profits, his money back plus 50%. These interests are reflected below:

Multi Member LLC Graphic 3

The LLC taxed as a partnership allows for priority returns like this. Be sure to work with your CPA on these issues.

Who is the manager? How to decide who will act as the Manager. 

The manager is, quite simply, a person who manages the LLC. LLCs can have more than one manager, and they also provide for two different management structures. 

Member-Managed LLC

The first is member-managed. In a member-managed LLC, the manager can only be one of the members. A member managed board can be all of the members. Management is determined by a vote of the members during a meeting. Members who want to have more control in the LLC may prefer this structure.

If their Operating Agreement specifies that the LLC is member-managed, then only Graham, Jaspreet, Marko, and Natalie are allowed to manage the LLC. 

Manager-Managed LLC

The second option is manager-managed. In a manager-managed LLC, the manager can either be one of the members, or the members can elect to hire an outside manager. This structure is ideal where members prefer a more passive role in the LLC’s affairs. We prefer manager management to better clarify and separate the roles between ownership and management, which can help solidify the corporate veil of protection.

Let’s say the LLC’s Operating Agreement states that the LLC is manager-managed. Kevin is a friend of the group and is also very passionate about financial education. He is known for his hard work and wants to be involved with the LLC. However, none of the other members want Kevin to own a membership interest. This doesn’t bother Kevin one bit. At their next meeting, the four members agree to elect Kevin to manage the LLC’s affairs. Everyone is happy. Kevin gets to do the management work nobody else wanted to do, and the four members get to watch their business grow. A chart illustrates this below:

Multi Member LLC Graphic 4

Member Leaves 

As is true with life, membership interests in LLC constantly change. LLC members can leave for a number of reasons, and there are several different ways they can leave, and how the remaining members can handle the ownership of the departed member’s interests. The most common method is including a right of first refusal provision in the Operating Agreement, described below.

Right of First Refusal

A multi-member LLC may select a right of first refusal provision. This procedure gives the remaining members first priority to buy a departing member’s interest. This helps the remaining members because have a say in who can take the departing member’s place. For this reason, we include such a provision in our Operating Agreement.

Here’s how it works. In the event that a departing member receives an offer to buy their interest from a third party, the departing member must first take that same offer to the remaining LLC members. The remaining LLC members then have the right to buy that interest on the same terms proposed by the third party. If the remaining LLC members refuse that offer, then the third party can buy the departing member’s interest on the same terms.

Let’s assume that the honeymoon period ends and relationships begin to sour. Graham is disappointed with the direction of the LLC and the other members’ philosophies. He certainly regrets contributing additional capital for a smaller ownership percentage since his priority return has not materialized. Graham’s friend, Andrei, learns of his discontent and offers to buy his membership interest. Andrei has always wanted to be involved in a financial education business. He also gets along with the remaining members. Andrei puts in an offer to buy Graham’s 10% membership interest for $750,000.

The Operating Agreement has a right of first refusal provision. Graham then goes to Jaspreet, Marko, and Natalie with Andrei’s offer. If the three members agree to buy the interest, they can pay $250,000 each to own the remaining 10% membership interest. If Jaspreet, Marko, and Natalie decline the offer (the more likely outcome here), then Andrei buys Graham’s 10% interest for $750,000. Andrei then must be voted in by the others to become a full member of the LLC with a 10% ownership interest and the rights to the priority return. A chart illustrates this process below:

Multi Member LLC Graphic 5

A Member Dies 

Another fact of life is that people die. When an LLC member passes away, there are several ways their interests can transfer. Each are described below. These transfers may also apply when a member leaves the LLC.

Jaspreet left the United States to visit family in India. However, his plane had mechanical issues en route and crashed into the ocean. Nobody survived. The remaining members were not only devastated but also unsure what to do with Jaspreet’s membership interest. Fortunately, the Operating Agreement may tell them how to proceed. 

Right of First Refusal 

As discussed, before, the company and the other Members may have the first right in the Operating Agreement to buy the deceased member’s interests. This can be useful if the other members don’t want to have Jaspreet’s heirs inside the business. The Operating Agreement provides a method for valuing Jaspreet’s interest. With Jaspreet’s estate paid off (in some cases overtime pursuant to a promissory note) the business continues with the working members.

Estate Transfers 

If allowed by the Operating Agreement, Jaspreet’s Estate (and/or other beneficiaries) may be allowed to own an interest in Financial Education LLC. The estate can always sell the interest to the other members if needed. Assume that Jaspreet’s wife Alex holds onto the LLC interest, then the chart below illustrates the ownership:

Multi Member LLC Graphic 6

Agreement is Silent 

If the Operating Agreement is silent on a certain event, then state law governs. Some states require that the LLC must be dissolved entirely when a member dies.

Let’s assume that the LLC is formed in a state with such a law, and the Operating Agreement is silent on the event of death. After Jaspreet’s death, the LLC is required to be dissolved. It doesn’t matter that Andrei, Marko, and Natalie are still alive. Their financial education business must end.

To avoid this unfair result, it is important to include Operating Agreement provisions that govern how membership interests transfer upon death or departure.

Conclusion

The above examples demonstrate that the LLC provides flexibility with regards to formation, governance, and membership departure. When forming a multi-member LLC, it is important to have a well-drafted Operating Agreement that spells out what to do when each event happens. Corporate Direct can help with all these issues. Schedule your free 15-minute consultation with an Incorporating Specialist to find out more!

 

 

Corporate Opportunities

Does the Rule Apply to Real Estate?

If you invest in and/or syndicate real estate what are the duties to your investors? You owe them a duty of loyalty. But how far does that go?

The issue of corporate opportunities is important. I wrote a whole chapter on it (from which part of this is excerpted) in my newest book “Veil Not Fail.” Before discussing its applicability to real estate lets review it in a business setting.

The simplest case involving a breach of the duty of loyalty is where a corporate executive expropriates for themself a business opportunity that rightfully belongs to the corporation. For example, assume that a company distributes window shades but a key executive takes the exclusive distributorship rights for a new type of awning. The corporation should have obtained the distributorship. It is in their core business.

The duty of loyalty requires officers and directors to apprise the corporation (or LLC or LP) of “corporate opportunities.” The corporation gets to decide if it wants it or not. If the company doesn’t move forward then the executive may be free to pursue it, or not. The decision may be at the company’s discretion.

A corporate opportunity is any investment, purchase, lease or any other opportunity that is in the line of the corporation’s business, and is of practical advantage to the corporation. If an officer or director embraces such opportunity by taking it as their own, they may violate their duty of loyalty, especially if by doing so their self-interest will be brought into conflict with the corporation’s interests. Will the officer be loyal to the company or their own business? The conflict is clear.

During their time in office, officers will likely discover business opportunities for the corporation. The officer may also have personal business opportunities that are somehow related to the corporation’s business. For example, if the officer is an inventor who focuses on telecommunications products, they will likely be interested in all such business opportunities. The corporation may be able to pursue some opportunities the officer discovers for the corporation, others it will not. If the corporation turns down one opportunity is the officer then able to pursue it?

Delaware courts have established a test for corporate opportunities. If an officer’s self-interest comes into conflict with the corporation’s interest, the duty of loyalty can be breached. The law will not permit an officer to pursue opportunities (1) that the corporation is financially able to undertake, (2) that is in the line of the corporation’s business, and (3) that is of practical advantage to the corporation.

On the other hand, if the corporation is not financially able to embrace the opportunity, has no interest in the opportunity, and the officer does not diminish their duties to the corporation by exploiting the opportunity, then the person may be allowed to pursue the opportunity.

Evidence that the opportunity was presented directly to the individual, and then not shared with the corporation, may be used to show that the corporate opportunity rules were not followed. In most states, the simplest way to avoid a problem is to present the opportunity to the corporation and allow it the chance to pursue or reject it. If the corporation cannot or will not take advantage of the opportunity, the employee, officer, or director may be free to pursue the opportunity.

Though formal rejection by the board is not strictly necessary, it is safer for the whole board to reject a corporate opportunity. The decision shouldn’t be based on individual board member’s opinions. There must be a presentation of the opportunity in some form.

After the corporation has rejected the opportunity, and before pursuing the opportunity, the employee, officer, or director should unambiguously disclose that the corporation refused to pursue the opportunity and ensure that there is an explanation for the refusal.

Resignation before completion of the questionable activity may not constitute a defense to liability arising from a corporate opportunity. Courts have found liability even where officers and directors resigned before the completion of the transaction. Although there are no certain guidelines for determining which opportunities belong to the controversy and liability may be avoided if officers use rigorous caution regarding corporate opportunities.

But again, what about real estate opportunities? Many syndicators are pursuing several investments at the same time. They always owe a duty to do their best. But does that prevent them from pursuing new projects without involving every investor?

The key to this issue is clarity. In a real estate based LLC Operating Agreement it must be stated that the principals are free to go after any investment. While existing investors may be offered the right to invest in future projects (always a good marketing technique) the syndicators must be allowed the freedom to pursue any and all opportunities for their own account.

Check your Operating Agreement and Offering Documents to make sure this important language is included.

How to Set Up Single Member LLCs

You must be very careful when you are the only owner of your LLC. Single member LLCs require extra planning and special language in the operating agreement.

One example: What happens when the single owner/member passes? Who takes over? It may be months before that is sorted out, and your business will falter without a clear leader.

Difficulties of Owning a Single Member LLC

You want the asset protection benefits of a limited liability company. But what if you don’t want any partners? What if you want to be the sole owner of your own LLC?

You can do that with a single owner LLC (sometimes known as a single member LLC).

But you have to be careful.

Before we discuss how to properly set up and use a single owner LLC we must acknowledge a nationwide trend. Courts are starting to deny sole owner LLCs the same protection as multiple member LLCs. The reason has to do with the charging order.

The charging order is a court order providing a judgment creditor (someone who has already won in court and is now trying to collect) a lien on distributions. A chart helps to illustrate:

Illustration showing typical multi-member LLC structure

John was in a car wreck. Moe does not have a claim against XYZ, LLC itself. The wreck had nothing to do with the duplex. Instead, Moe wants to collect against John’s assets, which is a 50% interest in XYZ, LLC. Courts have said it is not fair to Mary, the other 50% owner of XYZ, to let Moe come crashing into the LLC as a new partner. Instead, the courts give Moe a charging order, meaning that if any distributions (think profits) flow from XYZ, LLC to John then Moe is charged with receiving them.

Moe is not a partner, can’t make decisions or demands, and has to wait until John gets paid. If John never gets paid, neither does Moe. The charging order not only protects Mary but is a useful deterrent to frivolous litigation brought against John. Attorneys don’t like to wait around to get paid.

But what if there is only a single owner?

Illustration that shows a single member LLC structure

In this illustration there is no Mary to protect. It’s just John. Is it fair to Moe to only offer the charging order remedy? Or should other remedies be allowed?

How the Court Has Ruled Against LLCs With One Member

In June of 2010, the Florida Supreme Court decided the Olmstead vs. FTC case on these grounds. In a single owner LLC there are no other members to protect. The court allowed the FTC to seize Mr. Olmstead’s membership interests in order to collect. Other states have followed the trend.

Interestingly, even two of the strongest LLC states have denied charging order protection to single owner LLCs in limited circumstances.

In September of 2014, the US District Court in Nevada decided the bankruptcy case of In re: Cleveland.

The court held that the charging order did not protect a single member LLC owner in bankruptcy. Instead, the bankruptcy trustee could step into the shoes of the single owner and manage the LLC. This is not surprising since bankruptcy trustees have unique and far reaching powers, which are routinely upheld by the courts. (But know that, incredibly enough, a bankruptcy trustee can’t get control of the shares of a Nevada corporation. This is a special planning opportunity available to Nevada residents – or those who may become Nevada residents.)

In November of 2014, the Wyoming Supreme Court rendered a surprising verdict in the Greenhunter case.

The court held that the veil of a single owner LLC could be pierced. The issue centered on a Texas company’s use of a Wyoming LLC it solely owned. The LLC was undercapitalized (meaning not enough money was put into it) and it incurred all sorts of obligations. It wasn’t fair for the Texas company for the single owner to hide behind the LLC. The fact that a single owner LLC was involved was a material issue. The court pierced through the LLC and held the Texas company liable for the LLC’s debts.

Even though these are fairly narrow cases, both Nevada and Wyoming have held against single member LLCs. Again, this is the trend.

Luckily there are some things you can do to protect your assets as a single member LLC…

Strategies for Protecting Your Assets

One strategy is to set up a multi-member LLC structured in a way that gives the intended single member all of the decision making power. For example, parents can have adult children over 18 become member(s) or for those under 18 you can use a Uniform Gift to Minors Act designation. You may want to use an irrevocable spendthrift trust for children or others. A local estate planning attorney can help you set these up correctly.

But what is the smallest percentage you have to give up for the second member? Could you give up just 1/100th of 1 percent? Most practitioners feel that the percentage should not be inordinately low and that 5% is a suitable second member holding. So the ideal structure would be that John owns 95% of the LLC and the other 5% is owned by a child (or other family member) and/or an irrevocable trust.

Accordingly, in a state that doesn’t protect single owner LLCs, you have an excellent argument for charging order protection. There is a legitimate second member to protect. To further that legitimacy it is useful to have the second member participate in the affairs of the LLC. Attending meetings and making suggestions recorded into the meeting minutes is a good way to show such involvement.

But what if you don’t want to bring in a second member?

There are plenty of good reasons to set up a sole owner LLC. Other owners can bring a loss of privacy and protection. And if you paid 100% for the whole asset, why should you bring in another member anyway? Or, what if you don’t have any children or other family members that you want to bring in?

If a single member LLC is truly the best fit for you, there are three key factors to know and deal with.

1. The Corporate Veil

Many states’ LLC laws do not require annual meetings or written documents. Some see this as a benefit but it is actually a curse.

If you don’t follow the corporate formalities (which now apply to LLCs) a creditor can pierce the veil of protection and reach your personal assts. With a single owner LLC this is especially problematic. Because you are in complete management control it may appear that you aren’t respecting the entity’s separate existence or that you are comingling the LLC’s assets with your own personal assets. Without a clear distinction of the LLC’s separate identity, a creditor could successfully hold you personally responsible for the debts of the LLC (as they did in Wyoming’s Greenhunter case above.) Maintaining proper financial books and records and keeping LLC minutes can help demonstrate a definitive and separate identity for your single owner LLC. You must work with a company which appreciates the importance of this for single owner LLCs.

2. Different State Laws

LLC laws vary from state to state. Some states offer single owner LLCs very little protection. The states of California, Georgia, Florida, Utah, New York, Oregon, Colorado and Kansas, among others, deny the charging order protection to single owner LLCs.

Other states offer single owner LLCs a very high level of protection in traditional circumstances. So we have to pick our state of formation very carefully. In order to deal with this trend against protection, we use the states that do protect single member LLCs.

Wyoming, Nevada, Delaware, South Dakota and Alaska (collectively “the strong states”), have amended their LLC laws to state that the charging order in standard collection matters is the exclusive remedy for judgment creditors – even against single owner LLCs.

So how do we use these state laws to our advantage? Let’s consider an example:

A chart showing a properly structured single member LLC

In this example, John owns a fourplex in Georgia and a duplex in Utah. Each property is held in an in-state LLC (as required to operate in the state). The Georgia and Utah LLCs are in turn held by one Wyoming LLC. (This structure works in every state except California, which requires extra planning. Be sure to take advantage of our free 15-minute consultation if you are operating or residing in California).

I break down potential lawsuits into two different types of attacks: Attack #1, the inside attack and Attack #2, the outside attack.

In Attack #1, the inside attack, a tenant sues over a problem at the fourplex owned by GEORGIA, LLC. They have a claim against the equity inside that LLC. Whether GEORGIA, LLC is a single owner or multi-owner LLC doesn’t matter. The tenant’s claim is against GEORGIA, LLC itself. Importantly, the tenant can’t get at the assets inside UTAH, LLC or WYOMING, LLC. They are shielded since the tenants only claim is against GEORGIA, LLC.

The benefit of this structure comes in Attack #2, the outside attack. If John gets in a car wreck, it has nothing to do with GEORGIA, LLC or UTAH, LLC. But, the car wreck victim would like to get at those properties to collect on the judgment. If John held GEORGIA, LLC and UTAH, LLC directly in his name, the judgment creditor could force a sale of the fourplex and duplex since neither state protects single owner LLCs.

However, since John is the sole owner of WYOMING, LLC he is protected by Wyoming’s strong laws. The attacker can only get at WYOMING, LLC and gets a charging order, which means they have to wait until John gets a distribution and therefore could possibly never get paid. If John doesn’t take any distributions, there’s no way for the attacker (or his attorney) to collect. A strong state LLC offers a real deterrent to litigation, even for single owner LLCs.

3. Operating Agreement

Like bylaws for a corporation, the Operating Agreement is the road map for the LLC. While some states don’t require them, they are an absolute must for proper governance and protection. A single owner LLC operating agreement is very different than a multi-member operating agreement. 

For example, if a single owner transfers their interest in the LLC, inadvertent dissolution of the entire LLC can occur. This is not good. Or, again, what if the sole owner passes? Who takes over? Our Single Member Operating Agreement provides for a Successor Manager (a person you pick ahead of time) to step in.

The best way to deal with these issues, as well as others, is to have a specially drafted operating agreement to properly govern your Single Member LLC. Corporate Direct provides such a tailored document for our clients. When it comes to business and investments, you must do it the right way.

Incorporate First – Deduct Second

Should you set up a corporation or LLC before you start trying to deduct expenses? A recent case suggests you should.

Many think that they can deduct all of their start up expenses before formally incorporating a business. But in Carrick v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (T.C. Summ. Op. 2017-56, July 20, 2017) the Tax Court ruled otherwise.

The Facts of Carrick

The taxpayer had a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. For approximately 15 years, he was employed in the oceanographic industry. Before the years in issue, and during 2013 and 2014, he was employed by Remote Ocean Systems (ROS), building underwater equipment such as cameras, lights, thrusters, control devices, and integrative sonar.

During the years in issue, ROS was experiencing financial difficulty. The taxpayer was provided some flexibility in his work schedule, and he began exploring business ventures with other individuals, using the name Trifecta United as an umbrella name for the activities, which he named Local Bidz and Stingray Away.

The Local Bidz activity involved creating a website with features similar to those of the websites of Angie’s List, Yelp, and eBay, which would permit people to bid on hiring contractors for products and repairs. The taxpayer first had the idea for Local Bidz in 2012, and he went “full force in the beginning of 2013,” spending time accumulating data and developing software and the website.

At some point in 2013 the web developer moved to Los Angeles and other individuals left the project. For some unspecified period in 2013, the taxpayer traveled weekly from his home in San Diego to Los Angeles to consult with the web developer. The taxpayer abandoned the Local Bidz activity before the end of 2013. Sometime in 2014, the taxpayer began the Stingray Away activity, which involved researching and developing a device to prevent surfers and swimmers from being injured by stingrays.

The taxpayer initially noticed that sonar devices might affect the behavior of sharks and other species, so he conducted research at beaches in La Jolla, where swimmers and surfers often were stung and bitten by stingrays. The taxpayer did not fully develop any devices nor list any devices for sale in 2014. He had had no gross receipts during 2013 or 2014 from either the Local Bidz activity or the Stingray Away activity.

The Decision in Carrick

In Carrick, the taxpayer asserted that his reported expenses were deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses relating to the activities of Local Bidz and Stingray Away. The Tax Court noted that 26 U.S.C. § 162(a) provides the general rule that a deduction is allowed for “all the ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business.” The Tax Court stated that it was clear that the taxpayer was not “carrying on” a trade or business in 2013 or 2014 when the expenditures for the Local Bidz and Stingray Away activities were made.

Carrying on a trade or business requires more than preparatory work such as initial research or solicitation of potential customers; a business must have actually commenced. Expenses paid after a decision has been made to start a business, but before the business commences, are generally not deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses. These preparatory expenses are capital expenditures.

The Tax Court pointed out that, while the taxpayer may have been conducting research in 2013 with respect to Local Bidz, or in 2014 with respect to Stingray Away, neither activity reached the point of actually commencing. There was neither sales activity nor evidence of the offering of products or services to the public. The taxpayer was still in the very early stages of research and development in each of these activities.

The Tax Court observed that there was nothing in the record indicating that the taxpayer had commenced any business activity as a sole proprietor. The taxpayer had not set up a formal business entity. Therefore, the Tax Court concluded that the taxpayer was not “carrying on” a trade or business in 2013 or 2014. See, 26 U.S.C. § 162(a); Frank, supra, 20 T.C. at 513-14 (1953); Shea, supra, T.C. Memo. 2000-179, 2000 WL 688593, at *5n. 10; Christian, supra, T.C. Memo. 1995-12, 1995 WL 9151, at *5.

Brief Discussion

If you’re preparing to open a new business, then you need to make certain that you understand the tax rules. It is crucial that you offer the product or service to the public and that you begin sales activity, because start-up expenditures, i.e., expenditures paid before a business begins, are not deductible in the years they are actually incurred. Instead, they are capital expenditures, which generally must be amortized over a 15-year period, once business begins, meaning gradually write off the cost over 15 years. See, 26 U.S.C. § 195. Thus, in order for an expenditure to be an ordinary and necessary trade or business expense, it must be related to more than a preparatory expenditure.

So, if the taxpayer in Carrick had opened his business first, then he might have been able to deduct his expenditures in the years they were actually incurred, instead of amortizing them over a 15-period.

Conclusion

The moral of the story is: Open your business first, and deduct later.

What’s new in 2021?

Let’s start with the good…

California Raises their Homestead Exemption

The homestead exemption is an excellent creditor protection strategy for personal residences.

It all started in Texas when they were an independent republic from 1836 to 1846 and in need of settlers. Texas passed a law whereby creditors could not reach the equity of your homestead (your farm, ranch or dwelling). It worked like a charm and other U.S. states followed suit,

While the homestead amounts in Texas as well as Florida, Kansas, and Oklahoma are unlimited, other states have their own dollar limit. In Arizona, for example, the amount of equity you can protect is $150,000. So, if your home is worth $500,000 and you have a first deed of trust securing your mortgage of $350,000 there is $150,000 in equity exposed. By filing the homestead exemption form with the county recorder’s office (a process that may vary state to state) you have set aside the $150,000 in equity for your benefit as against a later creditor.

California’s homestead has been kept at a low and confusing amount for many years. A single home owner could protect $50,000 while an elderly married couple could protect $175,000 in equity. But those dollar amounts didn’t reflect the high cost of California real estate. A $50,000 homestead in some high rent areas may not protect a backyard Tuff Shed. So California, after years of inaction, did the right thing. They raised the homestead amount and indexed it for inflation.

The new homestead has a baseline amount of $300,000 but can go as high as $600,000 in counties with expensive real estate. Assume a couple is burdened by credit cards and car loan debt but they’ve built up equity in their home. Before, with the lowered homestead amount, they could lose their home to foreclosure. Now with the $600,000 in protection (and rising every year with inflation) the couple could go through a Chapter 13 bankruptcy and keep their home.

Homesteads offer significant protections to homeowners. It is good to see California recognize that.

And we’ll end with the not so good…

Congress and Corporate Transparency: A New Burden for Small Businesses

The Federal government wants to know who owns your business. In December, 2020 Congress passed the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA). Before this bill companies did not have an obligation to report their true owners to the feds. As long as the company paid their taxes there wasn’t an issue.

But within the federal bureaucracy and law enforcement circles there are people who just need to know more. Arguing that shareholder anonymity allowed bad people to engage in financial crimes, including – sound the alarms – money laundering and terrorist financing, the CTA passed both houses. Instead of requiring the states, which govern corporate formation, to collect such information, beneficial ownership data on every corporation and LLC must now be reported every year to the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

Opponents argued that such information could be easily gained and misused. Proponents countered with hubris, stating that all the sensitive data would be stored on private networks away from public scrutiny. Their assurances of confidentiality occurred the same week as the identification of the massive Solar Winds hack, the Pearl Harbor of cyber-attacks, in which the Russians gained God access to thousands of federal websites and networks.

But never mind that. Law enforcement’s desire to know who owns every corporation, LLC, LP and other state-chartered entity is clearly written into the legislation. FinCEN must keep the names and addresses confidential (servers willing) except when:

  1. Federal Agencies involved law enforcement, intelligence and national security want it;
  2. State and local agencies involved in criminal or civil investigations after obtaining a court order want it;
  3. Foreign intelligence agencies want it; and
  4. Other federal regulatory agencies including the IRS want it.

As such this confidential information can be expected to be used by both governments and dark web hackers. By 2023, every business entity at the time of its formation and on an annual basis thereafter must report its beneficial owners’:

  1. Full legal name;
  2. Date of birth;
  3. Current residential or business street address; and
  4. Unique identifying number from a U.S. passport, state drivers license or similar state issued ID.

The complete disclosure requirements, including the meaning of ‘beneficial owner’, will be further fleshed out by future regulations.

Corporate Direct will keep you informed of these new rules and will attempt to assist you with filing your FinCEN report. Failing to properly file will carry penalties of up to $10,000.00 and two years in prison. So while not welcoming this new reporting burden, we will work with you to stay on the safe side of it.

Distributing LLC Money

You’ve set up your LLC. Now it’s time to make money, and flow the profits into your bank account. It’s time to think about how you will be distributing LLC Money between bank accounts. In the example we’ll use in this article, you have transferred title in a real estate rental property (a duplex) into your new LLC, which is called XYZ, LLC. You have also, as is required to follow the corporate formalities, set up a bank account in the name of XYZ, LLC. You haven’t hired a property management company yet as you are going to try managing the property yourself.

In the first month, your two duplex tenants pay the rent on time. You are thinking to yourself: “This is good. This is how it’s supposed to work.” You deposit the rent checks, which are properly made out to XYZ, LLC, into the new XYZ, LLC bank account. You have a mortgage and trash pick-up payment to make, so you write two checks against the new LLC bank account to cover those obligations.

Glory be, after those payments, at the end of the month you have a profit! What do you do?

You could pull some of the money out, transferring it from XYZ, LLC to your personal account, knowing that you’ll have to pay taxes on a portion of it at some point. More likely, you may leave the money in XYZ, LLC and build up a reserve of cash to be able to cover any unforeseen issues. Some owners may leave the money in the LLC account until near the end of the year. After speaking with their CPA to understand how much income is sheltered by depreciation and how much tax they’ll owe they will pull enough money out of XYZ, LLC to pay their tax obligation, if any, as well as take a profits distribution for themselves at the end of the year.

Things are working well and you decide to invest in another rental property, a fourplex. You’ve heard that by putting your new fourplex into XYZ, LLC you are creating a target rich LLC. If a tenant at the duplex sues XYZ, LLC for a faulty condition they could not only reach the equity in the duplex but also in the new fourplex. They have a claim against the LLC and on an inside attack they can get what is inside XYZ, LLC, which would be both the duplex and fourplex. You don’t want to do that.

So you set up ABC, LLC to take title to the fourplex. Following what you did with XYZ, LLC you set up a new LLC bank account for ABC, LLC and deposit tenant checks made out to that LLC into the new ABC, LLC bank account.

Along the way you come to appreciate that the state in which ABC, LLC and XYZ, LLC were formed offers weak asset protection for the outside attack. The inside attack, where a tenant sues the LLC directly, offers the same protection in all states. But the outside attack where, for example, a car wreck victim has a personal claim against you and is suing from the outside to get at your assets, varies from state to state. California, New York and Utah are weak states. The car wreck victim and their attorneys can get at your valuable real estate to satisfy a claim. Wyoming, Nevada and Delaware are strong states featuring charging order protection, which is briefly described in this short video. For more detail, see my book, Loopholes of Real Estate.

LoopholesRE Sutton.Front Cover.Final .HiRes .2019
For now, we want you to focus on distributing LLC money through this new structure. As before, the new holding LLC we form in Wyoming opens its own bank account under the name Padre, LLC.
How to Properly use LLC Bank Accounts

 The profits you generate from the two title holding LLCs on the top line will, whenever you want, be distributed to the new Wyoming holding LLC. We don’t want to directly distribute to your personal bank account moneys from XYZ, LLC and ABC, LLC because you don’t personally own them anymore. Instead, you own Padre, LLC, which in turn owns XYZ, LLC and ABC, LLC. So the money flows from XYZ, LLC and ABC, LLC to Padre, LLC. Whenever you want to take a distribution you will take it from Padre, LLC, which is the entity you directly own. XYZ, LLC and ABC, LLC are technically owned by Padre, LLC and not you. But that is good, because it provides excellent asset protection when a strong state is used. As well, Padre, LLC is a good place to hold money because it is asset protected in Wyoming. If you hold the money in your personal bank account you are not as protected.

Some people will complain that in the structure example above, a total of three bank accounts is not needed. Two points are critical here. First, it is useful to know that with online banking and fairly low minimum balance requirements the use of three separate accounts is neither burdensome nor expensive. Second, and more importantly, by not using separate bank accounts you run the risk of a creditor seeking to pierce the veil of your entity. You must not commingle money between personal and separate business accounts. There must be a clear line of money flows from duplex tenants into XYZ, LLC, from that entity into Padre, LLC and from the Wyoming holding LLC into your personal bank account. You cannot skip a step and risk being held personally liable for a claim.

Again, distributing LLC money correctly is not going to be a burden. And even if it was it is required for you to maintain your asset protection edge, so just do it. Work with your CPA on the timing of distributions and payment of taxes and all will be fine.

Besides, it’s how everyone else does it anyway.

California Does Something Right (Temporarily) for Small Business

California’s minimum tax on business entities is $800.00 per year. The California Franchise Tax is the highest in the nation and also comes with corporate income tax and personal income tax. California traditionally is a tough state to own a small business due to all the taxation and ever-changing business regulations. Interestingly, corporations have been exempted from that high fee for their first year of business since 1998. However, only 75% of about 100,000 new corporations that are formed each year claim the exemption because of complicated tax filing requirements. And don’t forget, California demands you pay the business entity tax if you are “doing business” in California. Many people mistakenly believe that if they don’t specifically have a California LLC then this tax does not apply, but that is not the case. The definition of “doing business” in California is extremely broad. You are subject to this tax if you (among other things):
  • Engage in any transaction for the purpose of financial gain within California. (Even if you don’t live there.)
  • Are organized or commercially domiciled in California
  • Your California sales, property or payroll exceeds certain amounts.
With regard to exceeding certain sales amounts, it gets even muddier. There is a law that exempts certain companies outside of California from the tax even if they are making sales in California which is described by the Franchise Tax Board as follows:
Public Law 86-272 potentially applies to companies located outside of California whose only in-state activity is the solicitation of sale of tangible personal property to California customers. Businesses that qualify for the protections of Public Law 86-272 are exempt from state taxes that are based on your net income. These entities, however, still may be considered to be doing business in California and may be liable for filing and paying the applicable amounts.

Such broad explanations and definitions can make it extremely difficult for business owners to discern whether or not they must pay this tax. As well, there are ongoing battles in court in order to try to stifle the Franchise Tax Board’s broad interpretations. So even before the Coronavirus, these taxes have had the effect of discouraging business in the state.

But for now, everyone can go ahead and take a deep breath (albeit temporarily) when they form an LLC in California. California is changing its taxation policy to waive the $800.00 mandatory franchise tax for the first year on all new entities. LLCs, limited partnerships and limited liability partnerships that register in the years 2021, 2022 and 2023 will not have to pay the $800.00 in their first year of business. Through this change the state would be reducing the General Fund Revenue for California by about $50 Million dollars in 2020-21 and $100 Million dollars in 2021-22 and out years. The goal of the new legislation is “to help and reduce costs for first year California small business.” The legislation further notes that “…these taxes may stifle economic growth and job creation and may inhibit the formation of many small businesses.”  Which ironically, may have some new business owners holding off to open a new entity to avoid paying the 2020 franchise tax, thereby stalling the California economy even more until 2021 when the tax exemption will be placed. California traditionally has about 250,000 LLCs, partnerships and sole proprietorships formed each year. Now, to try and keep economic growth from stalling, the $800.00 fee is temporarily waived on the first year for these entities along with corporations. (Hopefully without the cumbersome tax filing requirements.) The cost of doing any sort of business in California is very high. Waiving the $800.00 fee for an LLC’s first year is a good start. But why not make the waiver permanent? Corporations are excluded from the fee for the first year, and have been for years. Allowing LLC’s and other entities a similar permanent first year exemption would be wise policy.

Ready to Form a California LLC?

Get a free 15 minute consultation with an Incorporating Specialist before you form a California LLC.

The Crimes of a Nominee Officer

Matt wanted to open a confidential mail order business and he needed to operate with absolute privacy. No one could ever know that he ran a business that sold sensitive supplement products over the internet. Matt lived in Las Vegas and knew he needed a Nevada LLC for his new business. He had heard that the state of Nevada allowed both corporations and LLCs the use of nominee officers, whereby someone else’s name, a nominee, was used for all the state filings. In this way, privacy was achieved because Matt’s name would not be listed on the Nevada Secretary of State’s website as an LLC manager. No one could ever, he believed, find out about the new business. Matt’s friend told him there was a formation company in a nearby strip mall that set up LLCs for privacy. Matt made an appointment. The gregarious salesman explained to Matt how it worked. Their company provided an individual to serve as nominee manager. This person’s name was listed on the Annual List of Managers filed with the state. Once that was done the LLCs owner, Matt, then held a meeting and elected a new manager – Matt, to manage the business. Matt liked the privacy involved and paid a significant amount of money for the formation company to proceed. The nominee’s name was listed with the state and then Matt, signing the meeting minutes prepared by the formation company, named himself the real manager for the upcoming year. Matt got the business going. As the sole owner of the LLC he was a cosigner on the bank account. His in-house bookkeeper could sign checks up to $2,500. Anything above that amount required only Matt’s signature. In many cases where he didn’t want his name to appear, he paid the bills with cashier’s checks. The business grew. In the second year, when the Annual List to the state was due, the formation company prepared minutes that took Matt off as manager, put the nominee in as manager for the filing with the state and, once the filing was done, put Matt back in charge. Matt came to realize that he didn’t like the high fees the formation company charged for the nominee service. So before the third year’s filing was due he obtained a new registered agent. This essentially terminated his relationship with the formation company. Matt didn’t want to be bothered with all the minutes and managers being changed back and forth so he just left the nominee’s name on as manager and filed the Annual List with the state of Nevada. Matt assumed that the formation company would never know otherwise. It was just a name. Then disaster hit. Matt’s sensitive supplement products caused a number of heinous injuries to honest, doubt-free individuals. The online reviews indicated that many were in need of significant medical attention. Matt was confident he could beat this. He instructed his new registered agent company to dissolve the LLC. With the business shut down there would be nothing to go after, thought Matt. It would all blow over. But that is never the case when a large number of innocent people are injured. A government attorney was assigned the case. Using Nevada law, she went to the registered agent’s office and requested the names of the owners and managers. The registered agent was reluctant to turn it over until they learned that in a criminal case they were required to turn over such information. Learning of the investigation, Matt finally hired an attorney. Jerry set Matt straight on a number of legal issues. Selling untested compounds to the general public was one issue. But Matt’s misuse of the nominee service provided the government with an even easier case against him. Jerry clarified Nevada law with Matt. When the manager of an LLC (or the officer of a corporation) resigns, an amended list of managers should be filed with the state. Each time they annually switched managers around they ran afoul of Nevada law. Jerry told Matt that the formation company had provided him with inaccurate information. Matt was angry, which Jerry noted was a common experience when relying on non-lawyers to provide legal advice. Jerry said there was a wrinkle in all of this. If Matt had simply left the nominee on as manager for the whole year, with Matt serving as assistant manager and doing all the work, no filing problem would have occurred. It is perfectly acceptable to list someone as a nominee officer. It was the changing back and forth without notifying the state that caused the problems. Filing false reports with the state of Nevada can result in significant penalties. In this case the false filings were doubled. First, the Annual List was filed under a knowing falsehood. The nominee was listed as manager but would be replaced in days without proper notification. (Again, you are better off leaving the nominee as the manager.) Second, in later years, Matt listed the nominee as manager without paying the formation company for the nominee service. He used a name of a nominee who clearly was not acting as a nominee. Matt knowingly submitted a false report to the state.
Nevada corporate law (at NRS § 78.150(3)(a)(2)) and LLC law (at NRS § 86.263(3)(a)(2)) requires the lists to include a declaration under penalty of perjury that the corporation or LLC “acknowledges that pursuant to NRS 239.330, it is a category C felony to knowingly offer any false or forged instrument for filing with the Office of the Secretary of State.”
A category C felony requires a court to sentence a wrongdoer to state prison for not less than one year with a maximum term of five years. Monetary fines may also be imposed.
Nevada law further states in § 78.150 and § 86.263 that a person who files a list with the Secretary of State which identifies an officer, director, manager or managing member “with the fraudulent intent of concealing the identity of any person or persons exercising the power or authority…in furtherance of any unlawful conduct is subject to the penalty set forth in NRS 225.084.”
The penalty for filing a false statement of material fact includes actual damages (involving a minimum of $10,000 for each violation), costs of suit and attorney’s fees and punitive damages as the facts may warrant. Jerry represented Matt as the government investigated both the untested supplement issues and the LLC filing issues. In the end, the government didn’t want to deal with all the experts and time required to prove the supplement case. Matt had clearly done all the LLC filings with the intent of improperly concealing his identity. The government’s case was so easy. Jerry did his best, but as it turned out, Matt was sent to prison for five years and owed millions in actual and punitive damages.

Be very cautious when using a nominee service.

Do not blindly accept the advice of those who don’t know the law. Leave your nominee on the annual list and work as an assistant manager or vice president. When the nominee is no longer used, file an amended list with the state. If you use the nominee’s name but you don’t pay for the service you can be charged with a felony and sent to prison. If you use a nominee to conceal your involvement in wrongful conduct the penalties are significant. It is easy to follow the law. It is also easy to avoid the advice of people who don’t know the law. Now that you know what not to do, here are some points to help you understand how and why you would use a Nominee Manager/Officer.
  • Nominee Manager / Officer can be used to provide privacy on state records. Each jurisdictions business statutes determine what information is made part of the public record, so this can vary depending on the state your entity is formed in.
  • Once a Nominee Manager/Officer is in place, the Member/Shareholder retains all operational authority, signature rights over any financial accounts, the right to enter any sort of financial or lease arrangement with any other entity, etc.
  • Agreement is signed between Member(s) and Nominee that outlines the parameters of the service.
  • Members/Shareholders retain the ability to vote the nominee officer out of the corporation if you so choose. Any state records that name the Manager, etc., must then be updated to show who is the current Manager/Officer/Director.