These potential scenarios should concern any entrepreneur or investor: You get sued personally and lose; the judgment creditor (the entity that won the suit and was awarded a judgment against you) decides to go after your business and investment assets. Or you have a retail store plus several real estate investments; you get sued for something related to the store and the judgment creditor decides to attach your real estate. You can cry, “Unfair!” all day long and it won’t matter if you haven’t taken the appropriate asset protection steps.
An asset protection tool you need to understand is the charging order. By definition, a charging order is an order issued by a court to a judgment creditor which essentially compels an entity of which the debtor is a partner or member to direct to the creditor until the judgment is satisfied any distributions that would otherwise have been made to the debtor (from Asset Protection: Concepts & Strategies for Protecting Your Wealth by Jay Adkisson and Christopher M. Riser, McGraw-Hill, 2004).
What this means is that if you have an interest in a Charging Order Protected Entity (COPE) [entities for which creditors are limited to using charging orders as remedies in collecting debt, such as a Limited Partnership (LP), a Limited Liability Company (LLC), and certain others] and a creditor obtains a charging order, the entity is ordered to pay the creditor any money that would have gone to you until the judgment is paid in full. In most states, the creditor has no rights with respect to the ownership or management of the entity and cannot force the entity to make a distribution. The idea is to balance the rights of creditors with those of the non-debtor partners.
Charging orders do not come into play with assets such as stock in a corporation or personal property. But in an entity such as an LLC, legislators have taken steps to prevent creditors from attaching partnership or membership interests and essentially becoming partners or members themselves because such a change in ownership could disrupt the operations of the entity. Where you are not protected by state law, discuss this issue with your attorney because you may be able to create a comparable level of protection through your operating agreement.