Business Succession Planning Attorney Medina Law Group photo 1One of the chief concerns facing owners of family or closely held businesses is how to affect an orderly and affordable transfer of the business to the next generation or to a key employee. Given adequate time and proper planning, that objective can be accomplished easily and often profitably. However, as most business owners know, there is rarely enough time to accomplish day-to-day tasks, much less to plan for something that is unlikely to happen for many years. How and when to address business succession planning are questions that do need answering though, preferably before problems arise.
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Failure to plan for business succession can result in monetary losses and even loss of the business itself. Estate taxes alone can claim 18 to 55 percent of a taxable estate, frequently resulting in businesses having to liquidate or take on tremendous amounts of debt just to stay afloat following an owner’s death. For business owners who have done all they could over the years to avoid or pay off debt, the prospect of going back into debt to pay taxes is unpleasant. Therefore, one of the more important aspects of business succession planning is being prepared for the financial repercussions that can follow the death of the business owner, answering questions like:
  • Where will the money come from to pay taxes?
  • Or, if the business is a partnership: Where will the money come from to buy out the deceased partner’s share?
  • Because clients commonly take their business elsewhere following the death of an owner or partner, how do you make sure adequate capital will be available to carry the business through what could be a slow transitional period?
Many of these questions can be answered through the proper use of such funding vehicles as life insurance, annuities, and disability insurance – often at little or no net cost to the business. The time to put these systems in place is before the situation arises, not afterward. Do not think business succession planning ends with an estate plan and life insurance firmly in place. Business succession planning must also include a plan for transferring the trust, respect, and goodwill that has been built up over years of operation. If the recently departed owner was a large part of the reason clients were willing to do business with the firm, these clients need to be reassured that they will continue to receive that same quality attention and service. One of the best ways to accomplish this goal is to begin transferring such loyalty while the owner is still around. Business Succession Planning Attorney Medina Law Group photo 2This can be done by introducing clients to younger associates now and by shifting some of the responsibilities connected with accounts to those associates – making clients comfortable doing business with the “next generation” of ownership, with no change in quality of service. Better yet, let clients see an improvement. Teach younger associates about the “power of doing the unnecessary.” In this case “doing the unnecessary” can mean anything from sending clients notes to stopping by or calling. Not to sell something – but just to keep in touch. Essentially, it is letting them know that they are important and that you value their business. Little by little, the “owners to be” will earn the trust and confidence of your clients. Another aspect of successful business continuation is earning the trust and confidence of the business’s employees. This means paying attention to the details to retain good employees.
  • Is the work environment pleasant?
  • Do people have the support and technology they need?
  • Do they feel appreciated and a part of things?
Business Succession Planning Attorney Medina Law Group photo 3So where – and when – should business succession planning begin? The start-up phase is obviously too early. But too often, business owners wait until the last minute, when important options, including the potential un-insurability of a principal or key employee, have closed. Generally, setting up a successful business succession plan involves seven stages:
  1. Survival — Once the business has survived the start-up stage, the owner should consider a business succession plan.
  2. Commitment — The owner must be committed to the concept that the business must continue to create opportunity for those to come. This commitment must be communicated clearly, extensively, and often.
  3.  Recruitment — Recruiting good people always pays dividends and is a key area in succession planning.
  4.  Development — Investing time in developing family members, key employees, and management team members and allowing them to exercise authority and control will be vital to your success.
  5.  Selection — Having developed a transition plan and recruited the right people, selecting a successor or successors becomes easier. By empowering a broad range of key people, the selection process is simplified and the owner’s options are enhanced.
  6.  Announcement — Once a succession plan is in place, the owner should communicate that plan. Such communication gives key management people and/or family successors a clear understanding of the path to the future, as well as any role they may play in that path. It also allows them to begin setting future goals and objectives for themselves.
  7.  Implementation — In implementing the succession plan, the owner must be ready to step aside and allow the successor(s) to take over. The owner must be prepared to take on new challenges in retirement, knowing that his or her financial future is secure.
  8. Finally, while not one of the seven steps, selecting qualified advisors, such as an accountant, attorney, insurance agent and financial planner, can help assure that your plan legally, profitably, and affordably considers your needs and objectives.
  9. If seeing your business continue into the future — without compromising your own retirement needs — is important to you, this last step may be the most important of all. Contact our office for more information and to schedule an appointment.