LLCs or “Limited Liability Corporations” can be excellent vehicles to accomplish just what their names suggest - limiting liability. That said, I stumbled across a recent message of caution regarding some LLCs, and the court case of Martin v. Freeman, ___ P.3d ____, 2012 WL 311660, 2012 COA 21 (Colo.App., Feb. 2, 2012) to back it up, both of which are worth sharing. You might say that an LLC is one thing, but a SMLLC, or a “single member” LLC, is a different beast entirely, at least from an asset protection point of view. To wit, the above article points out that a single member LLC is “an alter ego case waiting to happen.” The case of Martin v. Freeman is, as you might have imagined, a “veil-piercing” case as Freeman was the sole owner of an LLC involved in some hefty litigation and sold the LLC’s property to, at least in part, help cover the legal fees of the litigation. Of course, that left the LLC with no assets to satisfy the judgment that came down against it and only one place to turn for that satisfaction: Freeman himself. After all, Freeman had just under-capitalized the LLC, and did so by distributing funds to himself only to turn around and help pay legal fees for the LLC. “Undercapitalization” is the great leveler of corporations when it comes to asset protection and with little difference on record between “Freeman the LLC owner” and “Freeman the individual,” the corporate veil fell apart. Freeman was held personally liable. This is one more lesson on a subject that always bears repeating. Single member LLCs aren’t exactly flawed by nature, but they are often the easiest to muck up. In the end, keeping things straight between yourself as the “business owner” and yourself as the “individual” requires some vigilance and diligence.
Reference: Forbes (February 5, 2012) “Martin: The Inherent Dangers Of The Single Member LLC And Alter Ego Veil Piercing