Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How Do You Prepare Your Business For Succession As Part Of Your Estate Plan?

On March 17, 2010, the New York Times had an article entitled "How To Prepare Your Business For Succession." Even though there is no estate tax at the moment in 2010, the article touches on many of the non-tax issues which should be addressed by any family business owner irrespective of its form (corporation, LLC or partnership).

Previously, I wrote on this subject last year on a post entitled "As A Business Owner, What do I Need To Consider When Planning My Estate?"

The article mainly addresses the business related points of how to avoid a succession disaster. It recommends the following ideas:

First, identify your successors. Make an honest assessment. Succession specialists advise business owners to put their possible successors through rigorous outside analysis if possible.

Second, prepare the new successor or boss. If a child or other relative expresses interest in taking over the family business, the owner should set up a formal system of hurdles to make sure the child gets the skills required of any other prospective manager.

Third, deal with crucial employees. One idea given by the article is that to ensure that a new leader does not lose top lieutenants, it can be wise to offer them a percentage of the business. Businesses can be severely harmed when a top employee leaves or a salesperson takes his clients elsewhere.

Fourth, cover your tax exposure by obtaining good estate and tax planning advice.

Although the article covers many of the common issues, it does not even touch upon many of the strictly estate related issues which arise such as how to be fair to children who are not party of the family business and whether or not to take affirmative steps to protect the "inherited" family business from the creditors of children and grandchildren (including for example divorce).

The real challenge here is there is not one right answer. Some children may naturally thrive in the family business and help it grow. Should they not get a larger share of the business than a sibling who had no interest in it? Then some businesses require the children to have a professional license (law, medicine, architecture, etc.) to become a shareholder in the business.

The article deals with if you want your business to continue -- it says these are the things you ought to do. Most family businesses are sold not because they cannot be continued not because they cannot be continued but because the children/heirs do not want to continue and want the cash. That is a different issue that should also be addressed in the planning stages. Each business and family is unique and it is important to have a plan that is tailored to yours.

Posted by Henry J. Moravec, III. Henry (Hank) Moravec is a partner at Moravecs, A Professional Law Corporation. The firm is located at 2233 Huntington Drive #17, San Marino, CA 91108. He is a very experienced Los Angeles estate planning attorney, Los Angeles trust attorney and Los Angeles tax attorney who has more than 20 years' experience in business succession issues in estate planning.

Should you have any questions regarding your own situation, you can e-mail Hank Moravec at hm@moravecslaw.com or call him at (626) 793-3210. The firm website is http://www.moravecslaw.com/