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Succession Planning for the Family Business


Is it difficult for you to imagine retiring and your children taking over your business? Perhaps you see how accomplished they've become but somehow can't see them running your company as well as you and your spouse have.

You are not alone: Forty-three percent of family-owned businesses don't have a succession plan, yet about three-quarters plan to pass ownership to their progeny, according to a 2016 Family Business Survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research's Family Business Alliance.

The reason is simple — you're so involved in day-to-day operations that you're not thinking about what's next. But the traits that have made you successful in business — your vision, communication and execution — are what you need to apply to your family's strategic plan.

Into the Details

A rule of thumb is that you need at least 10 years to plan for succession in order to work through estate planning, taxes, liability, ownership stakes and voting rights. With enough time, you can give your child or children time to learn the management tasks and for you to see how well they're executed. You'll be able to mentor your children, bringing them along to see if they can step up.

Determining which kids will run the business and when it will happen will impact the legacy of your firm, your family and your community. But you may be more than aware that the younger generation isn't interested in working with you, let alone taking it over. A PriceWaterhouseCooper survey found that just half of the family firms questioned expected family members to fill key roles.

If you have kids who are interested in owning and running the family business, how can you make succession smoother?

  • Draw up two major succession documents to lay out processes to help prepare for succession. First, prepare a charter ownership with agreements on what it means to be the owner of the business. Second, prepare a family constitution. These documents are foundational pieces that reflect your circumstances, needs, expectations and vision. They will make the process more efficient, more effective, less stressful and more rewarding.
  • The business may not have enough liquidity to support transition of ownership within the family. Consider business factors like the economy, the regulatory environment and the state of the market your business operates in. Do you have a reliable valuation of the stock of your primary business entities?
  • Take stock of such family factors as family dynamics, changing skills, maturity, career objectives and health status of individual family members. Establish mechanisms to address disruptions caused by the sudden death or incapacity of a key family member.
  • If the business structure needs to be reorganized to consider tax treatment to facilitate succession planning, consider a restructuring. It may offer certain advantages, such as limiting liability or diversifying ownership opportunities.

Once you hand the company to the kids, allow them to run the show. You'll need to let them make some mistakes that they can learn from and give them the space to do things differently.

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Our firm provides the information in this e-newsletter for general guidance only, and does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services, investment advice, or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional tax, accounting, legal, or other competent advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation. Tax articles in this e-newsletter are not intended to be used, and cannot be used by any taxpayer, for the purpose of avoiding accuracy-related penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer. The information is provided "as is," with no assurance or guarantee of completeness, accuracy, or timeliness of the information, and without warranty of any kind, express or implied, including but not limited to warranties of performance, merchantability, and fitness for a particular purpose.
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