Minimum Cost Restructuring with Real Estate Provides Asset Protection and Flexibility

Minimum Cost Restructuring with Real Estate Provides Asset Protection and Flexibility

There is an inherent risk of liability that goes along with property ownership. You as a property owner could potentially be subject to tort claims stemming from activities that occur on the land. If the property were held in your individual name or in the name of your Revocable Trust at the time a tort claim was made and the claim resulted in a judgment against you or your trust, your personal assets, or the assets of your Revocable Trust, could be attached to satisfy the judgment. However, if the property is held in a separate LLC, only the property held in the LLC can be used to satisfy the judgment. This restructuring is advantageous to you because it would give you maximum protection for your personal assets.

This structure maximizes the asset protection for Corporations as well, because any judgment against one piece of real estate could only be satisfied by that piece of real estate and not the assets of corporation or the other pieces of real estate since they are in separate LLC’s.

Having each piece of real property in a separate LLC has advantages from a business standpoint in that it makes it simpler to bring in a developer as an owner of the real estate. Bringing in a developer as an owner when the real estate is held by an S corporation is difficult because an S corporation can only be owned by certain individuals and trusts, whereas most developers will be some form of business entity. However, any business entity can be a member in an LLC, and by having each piece of real estate in a separate LLC, you can bring in a developer as a member for just the one piece of property. Also, if you do bring a developer in on a joint venture, by the real estate being in an LLC, you have the flexibility to provide different allocations of distributions and taxes between you and the joint venture partner. This flexibility would not be available if the real estate was held in an S Corporation. Finally, when you decide to sell the real property you can sell the entity rather than selling the actual real property.

Each piece of real property in a separate LLC has advantages from an Estate Planning standpoint in that it makes it simple to transfer ownership. The ownership of real estate held by an LLC is represented proportionately by a member’s shares of an LLC. Rather than filing a new deed, members can transfer ownership of the property to their children by simply issuing them membership interest in the LLC. This makes gifting away interest in the real estate very simple to do. Also, it is easier to gift interest in an LLC than it is to gift away stock in an S Corporation, because an LLC has no restrictions on who can be an interest holder whereas there are limits who can be a holder of stock in an S Corporation. Therefore, each gift of stock out of the S Corporation would have to be analyzed to ensure it was going to an eligible S Corporation shareholder.

For Real Property currently held in your individual name or in your Revocable Trust, we suggest creating a single member limited liability company (LLC) for each parcel of real estate you currently hold. A LLC holding company should be created to be the single member of each of the LLC’s holding the real estate. You or your trust would be the sole member of the LLC holding company. You would still maintain control of each LLC holding the real estate because the holding company is the sole member of each LLC and you would be the manager of the holding company.

For Real Property currently being held in the name of a Corporation, we recommend creating a single member LLC for each piece of real estate and then having the Corporation contribute the real estate to the individual LLC in exchange for ownership interest in the LLC.

Any real estate that you acquire in the future should be held in a separate LLC with the LLC holding company as its sole member. Because of the business and estate planning advantages a LLC has over a S corporation, it is best to never acquire any real estate in a S corporation.

Protecting Your Real Estate Investments While Deferring Taxes in a § 1031 Like-Kind Exchange

Protecting Your Real Estate Investments While Deferring Taxes in a § 1031 Like-Kind Exchange

When structured correctly, the exchange of real estate property using closely held business entities can result in advantageous tax treatment under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (“IRC”), while simultaneously insulating the owner(s) from liability from potential judgment creditors. Section 1031 of the IRC, known as the “like-kind” exchange section, begins with the following statement: “[n]o gain or loss shall be recognized on the exchange of property held for productive use in a trade or business or for investment if such property is exchanged solely for property of like-kind which is to be held either for productive use in a trade or business or for investment.” If the requirements for a like-kind exchange are met, this provision allows owners to defer the recognition of gain on appreciated real property if the real property is exchanged for replacement real property of “like kind”. Put differently, if an investor is looking to acquire  real estate and also dispose of current real estate holdings, the immediate need to pay federal or state income taxes on the gain that would otherwise result from the sale may be postponed through a like-kind exchange.

§ 1031 Requirements:

The above definition contains several essential components that must be met for a transaction to qualify as a like-kind exchange. The following is a brief outline of the more material of these factors:

  1. There must be an “exchange of property.” A simultaneous swap of real property will satisfy this requirement. The exchange may also be a deferred exchange (meaning the current disposition  of property and later acquisition of the like-kind property) or a reverse exchange (meaning the current acquisition of property and later disposition of like-kind property), but additional rules and requirements will apply to these transactions, including the need to use a Qualified Intermediary for deferred exchanges and reverse exchanges, and the need to meet strict time frames for the identification and acquisition/disposition of the replacement property.
  2. The property must be “held for productive use in a trade or business or for investment.” While no definite time period meets the “held for” criteria, the longer the property is used in a trade or  business, or held for  investment purposes, the greater the likelihood that the transaction will qualify for the §1031 exchange. With limited exceptions, the IRS generally takes the position that personal residences and vacation homes do not qualify for like-kind treatment.
  3. The properties to be exchanged must be of “like-kind.” The IRS will consider the nature of the properties involved to determine if the like-kind requirement is met. Exchanges of most real property will qualify for like-kind treatment (e.g. the IRS has considered vacant land similar enough to improved land to qualify for a like-kind exchange). To the extent the investor receives cash or other property that is not like-kind, the IRS will require recognition of gain and payment of the resultant taxes.

Real Estate Transactions Using LLCs:

Many investors choose to structure their real estate transactions by setting up limited liability companies (“LLCs”) or other closely held business entities, and purchasing real property through such entities. Assuming an LLC is properly created and maintained, and its member(s) do not elect to classify it as a C-corporation for federal income tax purposes, the LLC form can insulate its member(s) from liability from potential judgment creditors while allowing pass-through taxation. Pass through taxation results in only one set of taxes for the individual member(s) (or shareholders if S-corporation classification is elected) (as opposed to C-corporations that are taxed at the entity level and again at the shareholder level when distributions are made).

Additionally, holding each property in a separate LLC can reduce the exposure to risk for investors owning multiple properties in this manner, which can result in significantly more favorable loan terms. For example, a creditor who obtains a judgment against the real property owned by one LLC where the fair market value of such property is insufficient to satisfy such judgment cannot reach either the personal assets of the owner(s) of such LLC or personal assets of the other LLCs, and cannot reach the properties owned by the other LLCs in an attempt to satisfy its judgment. The insulation from risk created by the separation of ownership of the property creates an incentive for a lender to provide better loan terms, particularly when the loan is collateralized by a portfolio of properties owned in this manner.

§ 1031 Exchanges Through Single Member LLCs:

In Florida, individual investors or entities may form Single Member LLCs (“SMLLC”) to own particular real estate assets. While SMLLCs do not provide all of the protections of multi-member LLCs, a sole member of an SMLLC may receive like-kind exchange tax treatment for the exchange of either 100% of his or her membership interests in, or the real property owned by, such SMLLC for either the real property owned by a third party entity or individual, or the membership interests of a third party’s SMLLC that holds replacement property. This result is possible because the SMLLC is “disregarded” for federal income tax purposes as an entity separate from its owner; that is, federal tax law simply ignores the existence of the entity, instead treating all of the assets as owned directly by the sole member. Consequently, an investor may also receive like-kind exchange treatment if all of the § 1031 elements are met and the investor sells property owned by one of its SMLLCs and acquires replacement property using another of its SMLLCs as a part of the same transaction (or deferred or reverse like-kind exchange, as applicable).

With the economy rebounding and real estate prices on the rise, like-kind exchanges should again become a prevalent tool in effective tax planning for real estate investment activity. However, tax planning for real estate transactions often involves a complicated analysis of all applicable factors and should be tailored to each individual’s situation on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, the IRC, the Treasury Regulations promulgated thereunder and other IRS publications contain certain exceptions and guidance on how to accomplish like-kind exchanges. The above is not intended to provide legal, financial or tax advice—it is only a brief outline of how like-kind exchanges under the IRC may provide owners with an opportunity to defer recognition of taxable gains for significant periods of time. Owners should always consult with a qualified attorney to assist in analyzing and structuring their proposed transactions to take full advantage of the protections and savings afforded by applicable law.


Protecting Your Real Estate Investments While Deferring Taxes in a § 1031 Like-Kind Exchange

A Defective Deed….Now What?

The closing documents have been signed and recorded, the funds have been disbursed, and the parties are thrilled the transaction has closed. Unfortunately, closing the transaction does not always signify the end of the file. Post-closing issues sometimes arise, and when they do, it is important to resolve them as quickly and efficiently as possible.

An Error in the Legal Description of the Deed

One such post-closing issue that may arise is a mistake in the recorded deed. There are several examples of what constitutes a mistake in the recorded deed; one of the most common being an error in the legal description of the property being conveyed. An erroneous legal description attached to a deed operates to cause the recorded deed to be defective, and impacts the chain of title. Some examples of an incorrect legal description in a recorded deed include, but are not limited to, a wrong call in the metes and bounds legal description of the property conveyed, an incorrect lot number in a platted legal description, or an incorrect plat book reference. However, the good news is that it can be corrected by taking the required corrective steps.

Improper Way to Correct an Error in the Legal Description

A defective deed may not just be re-recorded with the new, correct legal description attached to it, or with information added to the legal description after execution. In Connelly v. Smith, 97 So.2d 865 (Fla. 3d DCA 1957), the section, township and range were omitted from the legal description of the property being conveyed. The grantee in that transaction inserted the section, township and range after execution and delivery of the deed, and then re-recorded the deed. The court ruled the legal description in the original deed was insufficient, and the grantee’s voluntary insertion of information to the legal description after execution and delivery was of no effect.

Proper Way to Correct an Error in the Legal Description

When a mistake in the legal description is discovered, the correct process by which the mistake is remedied is to: (1) have a corrective deed re-executed by the original grantor and properly witnessed and notarized in accordance with Florida law; and (2) have the new corrective deed recorded. Having the original grantor re-execute a corrective deed and recording the same is the only way to effectively correct an error in the legal description of a defective deed.

Drafting the Corrective Deed

When recording a corrective deed, it is helpful to include a cross reference within the corrective deed that references the recording information of the defective deed. For example, a notation within the corrective deed may be included that states, “This corrective deed is given to correct an error in the legal description of that certain deed dated ______ and recorded ______ in Official Records Book ___, Page ___, Public Records of _____ County, Florida.” The notation is not necessarily required, but may aid in the understanding the chain of title in transactions that follow.

In the frenzy to close a transaction, occasionally a mistake such as an error in the legal description attached to the deed may occur. In the event that it does, the mistake can be remedied but only by having a corrective deed properly re-executed by the grantor and recorded. Since parties move on and memories and feelings fade or change, it is important to act as soon as possible to properly correct an error in a deed as soon as the error is discovered.