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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.

LLC vs Corporation

Which is Best?

Choosing the right entity can be one of the most important decisions a business makes. Business owners and investors may find themselves asking which to pick, LLC vs Corporation. To help make your decision a little easier, we’ve compiled a list of helpful comparisons that will teach you the basic differences among entity types.

Who should use which entity?

LLC

LLCs are great for people who want an entity to hold real estate or other appreciating assets. They are a popular choice for investors and entrepreneurs because of the flexible taxation and great asset protection.

Corporation

C Corporations are great for businesses that sell products, have a storefront and have employees. Businesses that offer services may find the taxes of a C Corp to be too high because of specific tax laws applied to Personal Service Corporations (PSC). It’s also advised not to hold appreciating assets in a C Corp because of the tax treatment of asset sales.

S Corporations are a good choice for people who would like the protection and structure of a corporation, but would be classified as a PSC by the IRS. They are also great for businesses that have significant start-up costs because of their flow-through taxation.

Taxes

LLC

LLCs can choose how to be taxed – either as a disregarded single member entity (where the tax reporting flows directly onto the sole owner’s personal return) or as a multiple member partnership. LLCs can also be taxed as an S Corporation or C Corporation. No other entity has this flexibility.

Corporation

C Corporations

A C Corporation has the widest range of deductions and expenses out of all the various entity types. This is especially true in the case of employee fringe benefits. If you own a C Corporation, you can set up medical reimbursement and other employee benefits and deduct the costs associated with running these programs from your corporate taxes. It’s also worth noting that as a C Corporation you pay an initial rate of 15% on earnings up to $50,000.

While you have access to a wide range of deductions and the ability to set up fringe benefits without taxation, the biggest tax disadvantage of C Corporation is the “double-taxation” issue. Double-taxation can occur when a C Corp has a profit at the end of the year that it would like to distribute to its shareholders. The C Corp has paid taxes on the profit, but once it gets distributed to the shareholders, they also have to declare the dividends they receive on their personal tax returns at their own tax rate.

You may also want to consider an S Corporation if your company’s primary product is services to the public, as you will be taxed as a PSC with an initial rate of 35% instead of the 15%. The IRS does this to stop people from using a corporation to pay less in taxes for what is essentially a salary.

S Corporations

S Corporations are what is called a flow-through entity (similar to an LLC). Unlike a C Corporation, an S Corporation pays no tax on the corporate level. The shareholders only have to pay taxes on the individual level. This can be beneficial in some cases, but shareholders who make a high income from distributions will pay higher taxes. As far as benefits are concerned, S Corps may still write off the cost of benefits, but shareholders who control more than 2% of the entity must pay taxes on the benefits they receive.

S Corporations are commonly used to avoid the PSC tax rate set by the IRS. A corporation is considered to be a Personal Service Corporations (PSC) by the IRS if more than 20% of the corporation’s compensation cost for its activities of performing personal services is for personal services performed by employee-owners and the employee-owner owns 10% or more of the stock. Personal services include any activity performed in the fields of accounting, actuarial science, architecture, consulting, engineering, health (including veterinary services), law, and the performing arts.

Since an S Corporation is a flow-through entity and shareholders pay taxes on the individual level, a modest salary with passive income may mean lower taxation. To determine what’s best for you and your business, you should always talk with your CPA or legal advisor.

Shareholders and Owners

LLC

An LLC does not issue shares, but it can have multiple owners (called members) who all share a percentage of the company.

Corporation

C Corporations

C Corporations allow for an unlimited number of shareholders, there is no limitation on who can hold shares and no restrictions on what types of shares can be held (such as preferred vs. common). A C Corp is perfect for a company looking to go public.

S Corporations

S Corporations are a bit more restricting. All shareholders of an S Corp must be Individuals (not entities) and they must be U.S. citizens. The company can only have 100 shares issued, and the shares can only be of one type.

Asset Protection

LLC

A key feature of the LLC is charging order protection. In strong states like Nevada or Wyoming, if the owner of a business gets sued, an attacker can only get a charging order (a lien to the distributions of the LLC). If there are no distributions, the attacker gets nothing. The charging order in most cases is contingent on the entity having at least two owners, but Nevada and Wyoming have protections for the single member LLC.

It should be noted that in some states, like California, Georgia and New York, the court may still order a sale of the businesses assets.

Corporation

A Corporation is an entirely separate and independent legal entity from its owners (or shareholders) and there is a separation between ownership and management. As such, the management and shareholders of a Corporation generally are protected from personal liability for the Corporation’s liabilities and obligations. Although shareholders of a Corporation may be liable for the amount they have invested in the Corporation, their own personal assets usually are protected. This limited liability feature also applies to directors, officers, and employees of a C Corporation.

However, there is an issue in the asset protection of a Corporation. If you own shares in a corporation and are sued personally (i.e. after a car wreck), a judgment creditor can reach your shares in the corporation. If you are the majority owner, the attacker now controls your business by virtue of share control. Nevada is the only state that extends charging order protection (as in an LLC) to corporate shares.

Foreign Investors

LLC

In general, whether you’re a foreign real estate investor or one in the U.S., the limited liability company is the best entity. The LLC is great for both asset protection and has flow-through taxation, and they are affordable to set up and maintain. Since they have flexible taxation, they can be set up for easier taxation management too. Often Canadians will use an LLC taxed as a C Corporation for ease of use, and Australians use them as-is for real estate investment of their retirement monies. It’s always best to consult your accountant about which taxation system would best fit your business.

Corporation

C Corporations

C Corporations are a good to foreign owners for the same reasons stated in the sections above, but It may be more popular with countries that have similar taxation. For example, most Canadians prefer to use a C Corporation because the taxation of a C Corporation most closely resembles that of their home country. When the systems are closely related, it makes them easier to manage.

S Corporations

S Corporations are the only U.S. entity that cannot be used by a foreign investor.

 

Questions?

Determining which entity is right for you can be challenging. You want to ensure that you are getting set up properly right from the start.

If you need help figuring out what entity is right for your business, set up a free 15-minute consultation with an Incorporating Specialist.

The Top 12 LLC Advantages and Disadvantages

When looking to start a business or protect investments you have several options in the type of entity you can form. As with anything, there are advantages and disadvantages to limited liability companies.

Advantages

  • It limits liability for managers and members.
  • Superior protection via the charging order.
  • Flexible management.
  • Flow-through taxation: profits are distributed to the members, who are taxed on profits at their personal tax level. This avoids double taxation.
  • Good privacy protection, especially in Wyoming.
  • This is a premier vehicle for holding appreciating assets, such as real estate, stock portfolios, and intellectual property.
  • Extraordinary flexibility in the ability to allocate profits and losses to members in varying amounts.

Disadvantages

LLCs and the Charging Order

One of the great asset protection advantages of the LLC is the charging order.

Charging order protection arises from each state’s law and is a key strategy for shielding your assets from attack. As with anything in the law, the charging order is subject to change and interpretation by the courts. Some states view the statute differently than others, which is why it is important to choose the right state when forming a limited partnership (LP) or limited liability company (LLC). It is also important to keep up on the new court cases and trends in this area to keep yourself better protected. Remember, the LLC has only been widely used in the USA in the last 25 years or so. We are just now starting to see court cases defining their scope and use.

Going back to the original statute (the rule passed by each state’s legislature) we consider section 703 of the Uniform Limited Partnership Act. It states that if a partner of an LP owes money to a judgement creditor (one who has gone to court and prevailed) the court may order a ‘charge’ against the partner’s interest to pay the judgement creditor. Thus the term ‘charging order’. This rule also applies to LLCs.

For example, if John owns a 50% membership interest in XYZ, LLC and John owes money to Mary after losing to her in court, Mary can seek a charging order to receive John’s 50% share in the distributions from XYZ, LLC. Of course, John’s other partner Carlos is not as keen to this, but any disruption is minimized with the charging order. Mary does not step into John’s shoes as a substituted partner. She can’t vote and tell Carlos how to run the business. Instead, she is only assigned the distributions that would have been made to John.

Again, the charging order is a court order providing a judgement creditor (someone who has already won in court and is now trying to collect) a lien on distributions. A chart helps to illustrate our example:

illustration of charging order

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

Mary 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 Mary. The charging order not only protects Mary, but it is a useful deterrent to frivolous litigation brought against John. Attorneys don’t like to wait around to get paid.

This short video also explains the charging order:

But what if there is only a single owner?

The Difficulties of Single Member LLCs

In a Single Member LLC, there is no Carlos to protect. It’s just John. Is it fair to Mary to only offer the charging order remedy? Or should other remedies be allowed?

llc advantages and disadvantages charging order single member llc

A key issue is whether the charging order applies to a single member (one owner) LLCs. There is a nationwide trend against protecting single member LLCs with the charging order. Courts are starting to deny single owner LLCs the same protection as multiple member LLCs. The reason has to do with the unique nature of the charging order.

In June of 2010, the Florida Supreme Court decided the Olmstead vs. FTC 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.

How Corporate Structure Can Increase Protection

Say you have a property in Oregon. That property is entitled to an Oregon LLC, which is owned by a Wyoming LLC. You then invest in a property in North Carolina, so you set up a North Carolina LLC owned by the Wyoming LLC.

If a tenant of your Oregon property sues over something that happened on the property, they have a claim against the Oregon LLC, not against you personally. They can’t get at your North Carolina LLC, and they can’t get at equity held on your personal property.

As you can see it’s beneficial to spread your properties across multiple LLCs. If you have 10 properties all in one LLC, it becomes a target-rich LLC. Often, we recommend only having one property per LLC. You may wish to have two or three properties in an LLC, but it really depends on how much equity you have in each property. The structure of your business really comes in to play during an inside attack, which is where the lawsuit is against an LLC, not the owner.

In the case of an outside attack, where the owner of the LLC is the target of a lawsuit, the charging order comes into play. In our example above where Mary is trying to get at John’s property, let’s assume John is the owner of a Wyoming LLC, and he has LLCs in North Carolina and Oregon. The car wreck has nothing to do with John’s Wyoming LLC, the holding in Oregon or the holding in North Carolina, so Mary can only go after John. And since John has a Wyoming LLC, even if he is the sole owner of the Wyoming LLC, Mary’s only option is the charging order. If the Wyoming LLC makes no distributions, Mary gets nothing. If the Oregon LLC and the North Carolina LLC make no distributions to Wyoming, Mary gets nothing.

This is not a great situation for attorneys who are on a contingency fee. They get a percentage of what is collected and it’s not a really good way to operate if they have to sit around get a charging order against the Wyoming LLC and then sit around and wait to get paid. Attorneys, being rational, economic animals are going to take the next case that has insurance instead of waiting for John to pay Mary.

You want to use the strategic positioning of the Wyoming LLC, which will own all your other out-of-state LLCs. States like Oregon and North Carolina may not protect the single member LLC, so you really need a Wyoming entity for protection in a case like the car wreck example. The Wyoming LLC creates a firewall against attorneys and frivolous lawsuits.

Entity Structuring is Our Specialty!

 

How To Present Your Business Plan

Business plans are meant to be seen. Whether you wrote your plan to attract funding or to help with management, you will need to show the plan to someone.

If you wrote your business plan in order to attract funding and/or investment, you will need to get the plan into the hands of the people who can decide whether or not to give you money.

Most of us are uncomfortable when it comes to talking about money. Many of us were taught that it is rude to talk about something so crass. But if you want someone to give you a loan or invest in your company, you will have to get over your upbringing because you can’t just mail out your plan and hope for the best.

If you want loan or investment approval you will need to take meetings and present your plan. Don’t think that just having the meeting and leaving the plan for the decision-makers to read will cut it. Don’t leave something as important as your business’ future to chance. Decision-makers may promise to read your plan and give it consideration, but you can’t be sure they actually will. The only way to be sure that your potential investors or lenders get your message is to present it.

The presentation of your business plan should be a business meeting, a formal presentation. Even if the potential investors are your parents and your little brother, you want to present your plan in a serious and professional manner. (Remember, although the law may change, you can’t advertise for people to come to this meeting.) But for your pre-existing audience, your friends and family and any professionals you’ve been in touch with, you may want to use a conference room. This room can be at the potential investor or lender’s office. If not and you lack the facilities, try borrowing space from a friend or renting a conference room. You may want to use presentation equipment, such as a computer/projector for your PowerPoint presentation. You should give your audience hard copies of your plan as well. When is up to you.

You can have the plan delivered before the meeting so that your audience will have time to formulate questions, though you run the risk of them making a negative decision before you have a chance to highlight all your positive points. Try having the plan delivered just the day before the meeting so your audience can become familiar with the plan, but it unlikely to make a decision. Or you can hand out the plan at the beginning of the meeting, though you run the risk of your audience reading while you are trying to present. Either way, have copies of your presentation slides to hand out so your audience can follow along.

Your slides and their corresponding handouts should be short, ideally bullet-points, and be in the same visual style as your plan. Your presentation should be less formal than your plan in that you don’t want to just sound like you are reading. Try to make it as much like a story as you possibly can. Practice your presentation and get feedback from people you trust to give you honest opinions before you go before people who can make or break your business. Keep in mind that your audience can read – your slides and your handouts – so you don’t have to. Let your slides be reminders for your talk. Let them remind you what points you want to make and then expand from there.

If you wrote your business plan to aid in management, who sees the plan will depend on your business, your style and your goals. Obviously, if the whole business is comprised of you and your spouse, there don’t need to be a lot of secrets. But if yours is a business with a rigid hierarchy with decisions made only at the top level, you may want to limit access. You may choose to share your plan with management only or show employees on a need-to-know basis. You might distribute a version of the plan (say, a version without financial detail, but perhaps with graphs and percentages instead) or you could include sections of the plan in your employee manual. It is entirely up to you. Odds are you will need to consider the twin needs of protecting sensitive information and building a sense of ownership and only you know how to do so.

While people involved with money will have a pretty good idea why you are showing them your business plan, employees might not. You might include your business plan presentation as part of a company retreat or have a special meeting just for the plan. Maybe you want to introduce the plan to everyone at once or department by department. Wherever you choose to have your plan unveiled, be sure you are present. You may choose to deliver the entire message yourself or you might be better served using a team approach with appropriate managers discussing different sections. Again, it comes down to your particular approach and your particular business. Regardless, be sure to explain what a business plan is and how it should be used, why you are showing it and what you expect listeners to do with it. Similarly, if you use the plan as part of your training program for new employees, be sure that they are not just handed the plan cold, but are given the same message you gave the others.

As your business and your business knowledge grows, take some time to check back in with employees to see how the plan is being used and how employees feel it is working. Get suggestions and comments from employees and then use that input to improve the plan. Let the plan work as a road map, a checkpoint and a management tool. For more information on this topic, please read my book Writing Winning Business Plans.

Writing Winning Business Plans

Writing Winning Business Plans 4To win in business requires a winning business plan. To write a winning business plan requires reading Garrett Sutton’s dynamic book on the topic. Writing Winning Business Plans provides the insights and the direction on how to do it well and do it right.

Rich Dad/Poor Dad author Robert Kiyosaki says, “The first step in business is a great business plan. It must be a page turner that hooks and holds a potential investor. Garrett Sutton’s Writing Winning Business Plans is THE book for key strategies on preparing winning plans for both business and real estate ventures.”