Entrepreneurs can work to turn equity in the business into capital that can be used to fund retirement. A financial advisor can help business owners with tax-effective retirement strategies, such as using life insurance policies, paying yourself a salary as the business founder, or arranging for an heir to slowly buy up your shares.

The death of a partner or major stockholder in a business can have devastating effects on both the business and the deceased partner’s surviving family.  The business is concerned with gaining control of the deceased partner’s interest at a fair price so that it can continue operations without interference from the surviving family members.  The family members are most concerned with receiving as much money as possible for their interest in the business and for capital that may be needed for estate settlement purposes.

Life insurance is another consideration when planning business succession. If the founder is nearing the end of his or her life, a well-planned life insurance policy can help successors transition into business owners. Upon death, successors face estate taxes on business values of more than $500,000—with the tax-free amount potentially offset by any capital business losses the owner declared during his or her lifetime. Life insurance is one way that successors can cover the remaining amounts.

Smaller businesses may not need to pay estate taxes, but can still benefit from a plan that ensures an equal legacy for their successors. A financial security advisor can help entrepreneurs plan an inheritance that is fairly distributed among all loved ones.

The Need for a Written Agreement

Absent a written agreement, the competing interests of the business and the family members could lead to major conflicts, litigation and possibly the forced liquidation of the business.  A buy-sell agreement can ensure that the business interest of the deceased partner will transfer in an orderly manner to the benefit and satisfaction of all parties.  With a buy-sell agreement in place, the stability of the business for it clients, employees and investors (or creditors) is more assured.

Key elements of a buy-sell agreement include a mutually agreeable sales price and terms of the sale.  The agreement needs to be funded in order to ensure that the capital is available at the time of the death of a partner.  Life insurance provides a cost effective means of creating the capital necessary to buy out the interests of the family and establish a reserve for the business to use  to continue its operations.

Types of Business Owner Buy-Sell Arrangements

Entity Plan: Under this arrangement, used when there are multiple owners, each of the business owners has a separate agreement with the corporation or partnership as the entity.  The entity, per the buy-sell agreement, will buy the deceased partner’s interest at his or her death. 

Cross Purchase Agreement: Used in situations where there are two or three owners, a cross purchase agreement is established between each of the owners. At the death of one of the owners, the surviving owners agree to buy a proportionate share of the deceased owner’s interest.

Buy-Sell arrangements are a simple, yet effective way for business owners of privately held companies to plan for the orderly transfer of business interests where two or more owners are actively involved in the business. In addition to securing the needs of the surviving family members and ensuring the continuation of the business, a buy-sell arrangement also ensures each owner that there is a buyer for their business interest at a fair price.

Business succession planning involves legal, tax and personal financial issues. Guidance from a qualified attorney or tax professional is strongly recommended.