What is a fraudulent conveyance?
The most important issue in any asset protection plan is whether or not the transactions constitute fraudulent transfers or fraudulent conversions (collectively, “fraudulent conveyance”) pursuant to Florida Statutes. A fraudulent transfer is a debtor’s transfer of legal title to his real or personal property to a third party with the intent to hinder, delay or defraud a present or future creditor. A fraudulent conversion is a debtor’s conversion of non-exempt real or personal property subject to creditor attack to a different type of property, still owned by the debtor, which new property is exempt or immune from creditor attack. Florida Statues provide that a creditor can sue to overturn a transfer or conversion up to four years after a conveyance was made or obligation incurred. Asset protection planning and transfers become immune from fraudulent conveyance suspicion four years after the planning takes place. Fraudulent transfer laws are different in bankruptcy court because there are different rules under federal bankruptcy laws.
What is the consequence of making a fraudulent conveyance?
Fraudulent Conveyances are not prohibited by law and are not illegal. Florida Statutes do not provide for additional damages against debtors and do not impose criminal fines or penalties. However, Florida Statutes do provide courts limited equitable remedies to undo fraudulent transfers. Fraudulent transfers may be undone and reversed by a court’s putting the property back in the debtor’s hands where the property becomes subject to the creditor collection process. The Statutes provide several equitable remedies to assist the creditor’s collection of these converted assets including injunctions against further transfers, imposing a receivership on the assets, or imposition of a constructive trust. A creditor alleging fraudulent conveyance may sue not only the debtor transferor but also the transferee who received the property in order to undo the transfer. Consequently, a fraudulent transfer to a friend or family member may make that friend or family member a defendant in a creditor’s fraudulent transfer lawsuit. Fraudulent transfers have more serious consequences if you file bankruptcy. A fraudulent transfer or conversion within two years of bankruptcy could cause you to lose your bankruptcy discharge.
What makes a conveyance a fraud against creditors?
Not all transfers or conversions which move assets beyond a creditor’s reach are fraudulent and subject to reversal. Just because you have debt or potential liability in your life does not mean you cannot transfer or sell your property, or that you must refrain from prudent tax planning and financial planning. Whether or not a particular transfer or conversion is intended to hinder, delay, or defraud creditors depends on the debtor’s primary purpose and his intent behind the transfer or conversion. To ascertain the debtor’s purpose and intent of a property transfer courts look to factors indirectly indicate intent to avoid creditor claims. Key examples which may determine that a transfer was fraudulent and should be reversed would be whether any particular transfer was made to a debtor’s family member; whether a transfer was concealed; whether the debtor retained effective use or control over the property transferred; and, whether the transfer rendered the debtor insolvent.
Defenses against fraudulent conveyance allegations.
When a creditor is trying to collect money from a debtor who has previously engaged in asset protection planning and has little or no assets easily subject to creditor collections a creditor will almost always institute an action attacking one or more of the debtor’s prior transfers as fraudulent transfers or conversions. Just because a creditor believes a conveyance was intended to defraud creditors does not mean a court will set aside the conveyance. A debtor can show many legitimate reasons to convey assets other than avoiding creditors. As stated above, legitimate financial planning or estate planning often rebuts fraudulent transfer allegations. Reasonable financial planning is not reversible as a fraudulent transfer simply because one of the consequences of reasonable planning is increased asset protection.
Your stated defense against fraudulent transfer allegations must be credible. For example, some people explain their formation of family partnerships and trusts as reasonable estate tax planning. That reason is not credible if the debtor does not have a taxable estate that warrants estate tax planning.
How fraudulent conveyance issues impact asset protection planning?
Just the possibility of a creditor’s allegations of fraudulent conveyance should not deter aggressive asset protection planning prior to time a judgment is entered by a court. People have a constitutional right to control or transfer their property until such time as a judgment creditor obtains a legal interest in the property. This is why the applicable statutes do not prohibit or make illegal fraudulent conveyances. Because a court cannot increase the amount of the judgment damages already awarded against a debtor because of a debtor’s fraudulent conveyance, asset protection is valuable even if steps taken might be subsequently challenged or even reversed.