Business Succession Planning in your Estate Plan

Business succession planning is critical in your estate plan to ensure your business succeeds when you’re gone and to preserve value for your beneficiaries.

When people think about estate planning, many just think about their personal property and their children’s future. If you have a successful business, you may want to think about how it will continue after you retire or pass away.  Business succession planning is critical because the value and success of the business will be greatly effected when you pass away.  Planning now will help prevent interruptions to the business and preserve the value for your beneficiaries, and for your employees.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Why Business Owners Should Think About Estate Planning Sooner Than Later” says that many business owners believe that business succession planning, estate planning and getting their affairs in order happens when they’re older. While that’s true for the most part, it’s only because that’s the stage of life when many people begin pondering their mortality and worrying about what will happen next or what will happen when they’re gone. The day-to-day concerns and running of a business is also more than enough to worry about, let alone adding one’s mortality to the worry list at the earlier stages in your life.  Having been a business owner myself, I understand that the demands of the day seem so important, it’s hard to think about next week, let alone when you’re gone.

Business continuity is the biggest concern for entrepreneurs and one of the key components to address in business succession planning. This can be a touchy subject, both personally and professionally, so it’s better to have this addressed while you’re in charge.  One option is to create a living trust and will to put in place parameters that a trustee can carry out. With these names and decisions in place, you’ll avoid a lot of stress and conflict for those you leave behind.  You may do this as a trust solely for the business, such as a management trust, or as part of your regular estate planning.

They may be upset with you, but it’s better than the other or future owners and key employees being mad at each other.  This will give them a higher probability of working things out amicably at your death. The smart move is to create a business succession plan that names successor trustees to be in charge of operating the business, if you become incapacitated or die.

Business succession planning may include several other aspects.  For example, many owners complete buy sell agreements or similar documents that require a deceased owners estate to sell their interest to the other owners, or address what happens if an owner divorces, or becomes disabled.  Some even address buy outs for retiring owners.  It is also a good idea to consider employment agreements that entice key employees to stay with the company if you should retire or pass away.  These documents can be complex as they touch many issues, but are worth discussing with your estate planning or business attorney as part of your business succession plan.

A power of attorney document will nominate a fiduciary agent to act on your behalf, if you become incapacitated, but you should also ask your estate planning attorney about creating a trust to provide for the seamless transition of your business at your death to your successor trustees. The transfer of the company to your trust will avoid the hassle of probate and will ensure that your business assets are passed on to your chosen beneficiaries. Timely planning will also preserve your business assets, as advanced tax planning strategies might be implemented to establish specific trusts to minimize the estate tax.  See here for more details.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-do-trusts-work-in-your-estate-plan/

Business succession planning and estate planning may not be on tomorrow’s to do list for young entrepreneurs and business owners. Nonetheless, it’s vital to plan for all that life may bring, and is critical to prevent disruptions to the business you created.

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 30, 2019) “Why Business Owners Should Think About Estate Planning Sooner Than Later”

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Probate: Dissolving the Mystery
It is important to understand the probate process before deciding whether and how to avoid it.

Probate: Dissolving the Mystery

probate and estate planning
If you want to avoid probate, work with an experienced attorney to coordinate your plan and assets.

Probate avoidance is a common concern for our clients.  They frequently seek ways to pass their assets to their loved ones without going through probate.  Although it can be avoided with proper estate planning, probate avoidance should be done carefully and at the advice of an attorney as using piecemeal strategies usually don’t work, and sometimes create bigger problems.  For example, consider using trusts in your estate planning.  See this article for more information.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-do-trusts-work-in-your-estate-plan/

Before considering whether you want to avoid probate, it is important to understand what the process is.  The Street’s recent article on this subject asks “What Is Probate and How Can You Avoid It?” The article looks at the probate process and tries to put it in real-life terms.

Probate is the process by which an Executor (person put in charge of the Will) goes to court to prove the validity of the Will and their authority to be in charge of the estate.  I find it helpful to remember that the word probate is essentially Latin for “prove it.”

Every state’s process is different, but in Texas, the Executor starts by filing the Will and an application to probate along with other documents necessary to that case.  Next, there is a hearing before a probate judge.  The Executor and her attorney ask the judge to admit the Will to probate as the valid Will of the decedent and ask that the Executor be empowered to handle the decedent’s affairs as directed in the Will.

Once the Will is admitted to probate and the Executor agrees to serve, there are many tasks for them to complete.  They include the following:

  • Giving notice to the beneficiaries in the Will;
  • Giving notice to potential creditors of the estate;
  • Gathering, valuing and categorizing the decedent’s assets;
  • Prepare an inventory of those assets;
  • Paying off any of the deceased’s existing valid debts or fighting invalid ones;
  • Paying final taxes or expenses of the estate; and
  • Distributing the deceased’s property to those directed by the Will

The above are just the basic responsibilities of the Executor.  The probate process becomes more complicated when a creditor appears, the family disagrees, assets are entangled or cumbersome, such as land or business interests, or the Will was written without the aid of an attorney.  Even worse, it is hard for an Executor to locate assets in the first place!  This can make estates drag on months or even years.  I recently spoke with a client whose family is still going through a probate 10 years after the decedent has passed.

With all of that uncertainty, it is worth discussing your wishes with an experienced estate planning attorney who will be able to explain what strategies are used to avoid probate, how to remove certain assets from the process, or whether it needs to be avoided at all.  The key, as with all estate plans, is to find the option that fits your goals for you and your family.

Reference: The Street (July 29, 2019) “What Is Probate and How Can You Avoid It?”

Continue Reading Probate: Dissolving the Mystery