Attorney Shannon P. McNulty provides personalized legal and tax advice on an ongoing basis to select business owners, investors, and other individuals with complex legal and financial situations. Ms. McNulty’s background in tax law and financial planning enables her to advise clients on comprehensive wealth planning strategies to protect their assets, minimize their taxes, and maximize the wealth passed on to loved ones and cherished causes.
The Importance of Planning for Business Owners
If you’re a business owner, numerous people may rely on you – your family for income generated by the business, your employees for their livelihoods, and your customers for products or services. If something happens to you and the business can no longer operate, the value of the business can be lost for your family, employees may lose their jobs, and customers can be left in the lurch.
Because of this responsibility, estate and disability planning is particularly important for those who own and operate their own businesses. While it’s easy to put off planning until you’re contemplating your retirement, death and disability can occur when least expected, and every owner of an established business – no matter what their age – should have a plan in place for what would happen to the business if they were no longer around to run it.
If you own a business, you want to make sure that there is a plan in place to notify or take care of existing customers, ensure employees get paid, and either wind down the business or arrange for operations to continue until it can be sold. If the business will be sold to an outside party, your plan should provide for the business to continue operating for at least 6 months – about the amount of time that it will take to find a buyer and close the sale.
Where the business is owned by more than one person, it is important to plan for what would happen if one of the owners were unable to continue in his or her role due to death or disability or because he simply decided to retire or otherwise leave the business. Advanced planning involving buy-sell agreements and life insurance policies can ensure that the business continues to operate under the remaining owners while providing a fair return for the departing owner or the owner’s family.
Without a buy-sell agreement, you could end up owning the business with your partner’s spouse or children, who may have very different ideas about how to run the business. A buy-sell agreement allows you to buy out your partner’s heirs and continue to run the business as you see fit. It also provides the heirs with a fair inheritance.
Family Business Succession
The transfer of a business from its founder to a subsequent generation is a critical point in the life cycle of a family business, and a successful transition requires a team of trusted professionals. Family business succession planning should incorporate not only legal and tax planning, but your vision for the future of the company and the legacy you leave for your loved ones.
Business succession planning often involves difficult decisions about whether your children are the best choice to lead the business, and if so, which one(s). Some children may be involved in the day-to-day operations of the business, while others have little or nothing to do with it. In the absence of a well-thought-out plan, the business may be transferred to all your children equally – whether or not they are interested in it. Allowing a company to be passed to children who
have no interest in running it is a sure recipe for disaster. A good plan ensures the continued success of the business while providing for children who may have chosen other career paths.
Estate and gift taxes create an additional challenge for the owner of a family business.
Because the owner’s assets are often tied up in the business, an estate tax levy can require a sale of all or part of the company to pay the tax authorities. Careful planning is required to both minimize any estate taxes and ensure that sufficient assets are available to pay any taxes owed without affecting the next generation’s ownership of the company.
Next-Generation Heirs and Future Business Owners
Transfers of businesses or wealth from one generation to the next can be complicated and wrought with uncertainty. Talking to your parents about your possible inheritance can be daunting, but it’s often important for making smart decisions about your own legal and financial planning.
We help clients navigate tricky intergenerational relationships and make sure they’re prepared for the next phase of their lives. This can include discussions surrounding family businesses, dealing with ailing parents, and understanding your role as a power of attorney and eventually executor of your parents’ estate. Planning ahead can help ensure that your parents have the care they need and you have the information necessary to make smart decisions.