Back to the Basics: Understanding Limits on Corporate Protection
Protecting personal assets from liability for business activities that produce a loss, debt, or liability is one of the chief drivers motivating business owners to establish a corporation, limited liability company, or limited partnership when they set-up their new business. For the most part, in California, once you form one of these entities, your personal assets (such as your home, automobile, and savings) are protected from the reach of creditors of losses, debts, or liabilities, incurred by the business.
There is no corporate protection, however, for debts and liabilities of a business if:
- The corporation was not formed correctly; and/or
- The corporation does not operate as a corporation.
Even if your corporation was formed correctly and operates as a California corporation, personal liability for the corporation’s debts and liabilities may flow to you personally if you are an officer, director, and sometimes shareholder of the corporation.
California does not provide corporate protection to directors, officers, and shareholders when:
- Wages owed to employees: If the corporation is unable to pay employee wages, the officers and directors of the corporation are personally liable during the time that they are directors and officers for those unpaid wages. California holds officers and directors to a higher standard as fiduciaries of the corporation. A fiduciary in these cases is one who is legally obligated to act in the best interest of the corporation (as opposed to themselves). As fiduciaries, the officers and directors should have made provisions to pay employee wages first. If they failed to do so, they can be held personally liable for the employee wages. This also includes the wages of independent contractors, who are wrongly classified as independent contractors, when they are actually employees.
- When officers and directors have extended personal credit: Officers and directors of
corporations will remain personally liable on corporate debts and liabilities
if they extend their personal credit in two types of situations:
- First, granting a personal guaranty on a corporate debt, usually done for commercial leases and bank loans, makes one personally liable for the corporate debt in the event the corporation cannot meet the repayment terms.
- Second, when the corporation operates initially as a partnership or sole proprietorship, and it is then incorporated. If personal credit was utilized to obtain credit for the business in the past, it will remain after a change in status. Even though vendors are informed of the new corporate structure, and they change the name on the account to the corporation, personal liability holds.
Seek Legal Advice From a California Business Lawyer
There are ways to minimize your personal liability when forming a California corporation. Limited liability company, or limited partnership. A California attorney can assist you in reducing your personal liability by forming a corporation correctly and advising you on the proper way to operate the corporation. A California lawyer can also assist you in minimizing or eliminating your personal liability on vendor accounts once incorporated, and not incurring personal liability for future corporate debts.
If you are interested in forming a corporation or converting an existing partnership, sole proprietorship into a corporation, in the East Bay Area including the communities of Fremont, Hayward, Union City, Milpitas, or Newark, California, seek legal advice and counsel of a California business lawyer today.