BUSINESS SUCCESSION PLANNING
Many of our firm’s clients are closely held businesses or the owners of closely held businesses. Often critical challenges of these enterprises, especially “family businesses” with multiple family members and sometimes multiple generations as owners, are issues of business succession and estate planning for the owners. On many occasions when clients have sought counsel on questions of business structure and organization – and frequently restructuring and reorganization – the discussion quickly and of necessity turns to estate planning.
- Are the business ownership interests allocated among family members to take advantage of estate tax avoidance mechanisms that may already be part of the owners’ estate plans?
- Are the interests properly titled in trusts the owners may have already established?
- Have the business and the owners planned for payment of estate taxes that might result from the death of an owner?
- Should the owner(s) be gifting or otherwise transferring ownership interests to the next generation to reduce the current owners’ taxable estates?
- Are there certain assets of the business (often real estate) that might be transferred to another entity (a family partnership or LLC) to facilitate gifting without the current owners losing control over the asset?
- Should there be mechanisms in place to allow succeeding owners – perhaps the next generation – to acquire ownership interests?
- Who should be the successor owner(s) of the business? Should that person or those persons also be the operator(s)?
- Do the business’s existing governing documents (Shareholder Agreements, Member Control Agreements, Buy-Sell Agreements) restrict, allow or encourage transfers of ownership interests to relatives? Should they?
- Should life insurance be utilized to protect the business and the owners against the risk of premature death of the business’s key personnel and provide liquidity with which to pay estate taxes?
All of these questions and more arise and need to be carefully considered when an owner of a closely held business starts thinking about his or her estate plan and the succession plan for the business. At Sanford, Pierson, Thone & Strean, PLC we have advised and worked hand in hand with hundreds of small businesses and their owners as they deal with these issues. We pride ourselves in not only giving sound legal advice, but also being sensitive to the facts of life of family and closely held enterprises.