Our Firm offers a variety of business services, including business entity formation (for-profit and non-profit businesses), business succession planning, Buy/Sell Agreements, and estate planning for business owners.
Are you starting a new business? Or are you already a business owner? How do you know that you have adequately protected yourself, your home, and your family from unexpected liability? If you haven’t formed a legal business entity, you have left your personal assets vulnerable to business liabilities and lawsuits.
Business entities such as corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs), and even real estate trusts, offer certain protections from liability and can keep your personal assets out of reach in the event of a lawsuit or unpaid business debts. But how do you know which entity is the right type for you? Should you form a corporation or an LLC? What about trusts?
Our attorneys can advise you on which type of business entity is right for you and your business! We can then quickly and efficiently create that business entity for you, including the drafting of all necessary documents and filing with the proper governmental authorities. Every business is different, and we will evaluate yours on an individual basis.
Beyond just forming the entity, or even if you’ve been in business for years, we will advise you on:
- The best ways to protect yourself and your family from liability.
- Written agreements with any partners, so that there are clear instructions about what happens to the company if a partner passes away unexpectedly.
- Estate planning tools that are specific to successful business owners.
- The best ways to market your business.
Does your business qualify as a non-profit entity under state or federal law? If so, you could be eligible for many tax breaks and tax exemptions. However, qualifying for these exemptions and filing the proper paperwork is very complicated, with several different options available. You need competent legal advice to help you qualify for these exemptions. For example, the documentation necessary for tax exemption as a recognized charity under Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) is extremely complicated and should not be undertaken without legal assistance.
We can help you determine if your business qualifies, advise you on how to qualify, and prepare both corporate and tax-related documents.
What happens to your business if your business partner passes away unexpectedly? What happens to their share of the company? What happens to the company itself? Even if the partners had agreed on a buyout, where does the money for the buyout come from?
If your company has multiple partners, then your business entity documents are NOT complete without a Buy/Sell Agreement.
A Buy/Sell Agreement is a written contract between owners of a company where it is explicitly stated as to what happens when one of the partners passes away. It can state that the deceased owner's share goes to his family via stock or ownership interests, and/or that his family has the right to step into his shoes and be a partner in the business. Or it may specify that the percentage ownership of the deceased person passes to the surviving partner, but that the surviving partner is then to monetarily compensate the deceased owner's family. But how is that to be decided? Well, the terms are outlined in the Buy/Sell Agreement, including methods for an appraisal if there is a dispute about the company's value. Very often these Buy/Sell Agreements are funded with life insurance.
In the case of an owner passing away, and the surviving owner or owners are taking over the business, with a payout to the deceased’s family, where does the money come from? If the company does not have the cash to pay for a buyout, which most do not, then life insurance can be used to fund the buyout.
Don’t make the mistake of entering into a partnership without a Buy/Sell Agreement, and a plan for funding that agreement. We’ve seen the unexpected death of a partner wreak absolute havoc on a company and its partners. We've seen it many, many times when one partner passes away and it turns into a dispute and even litigation between the deceased owner's family and the surviving partner. That's because in these cases, the partners did not put their wishes in writing. They did not discuss, agree upon, and put a succession plan in writing, and they did not put together an estate plan that would deal with these issues. That leaves the deceased person’s beneficiaries and the surviving partner left to argue about what is supposed to happen, what's fair, and what represents adequate compensation.
Be prepared for this with a proper Buy/Sell Agreement. A Buy/Sell Agreement can easily be modified over time so that it is always the right fit for the partners. That’s why the relationship with an estate planner has to be an ongoing thing, and not a one-shot deal. The estate planner should be there to implement changes as the partners’ lives change.
Estate Planning for Business Owners
Successful business owners are a different breed and face unique challenges. As a firm that specializes in estate planning, we’ve done planning for all types of people. Rich, not so rich, big families, singles, the Greatest Generation, millennials, and everything in between. We’ve found that estate planning for business owners is among the most important, and most misunderstood, planning there is. It’s easy to screw up if you don’t know what you’re doing. But if you do it right, it’s among the most rewarding work that we do, and it often has the biggest impact on the client and their families – the potential to help our business-owner clients and their families hugely.
Our attorneys have also found that business owners are often so busy that they can neglect their own planning. They spend so much time worrying about others and the day-to-day of running the business that they put their own personal needs, and sometimes their family’s needs as well, on the backburner. Our attorneys have to remind our business owner clients that their own planning is as important as running the business because it’s done to protect their families. Business owners have to use special care to do their planning and do it right.
Succession planning can change over time, and be modified as the partners' age, or as their beneficiary’s age. For example, planning for owners with children who are under 18 should be vastly different from planning for owners who have adult children. Adult children might already be part of the business, and it could make sense for them to step into their parent's shoes and take over as a partner. Or the owner's children, whether adults are not, may have no interest in being part of the business and are simply looking for compensation as part of their parent's estate.
Every business owner needs to have an estate plan. We can counsel you on reducing estate taxes, passing your business on to the next generation, and making sure your business assets are protected.
For more information about Estate Planning for business owners, request a free copy of Attorney Michael Monteforte’s newest book, specifically designed for successful business owners, titled Your Business Your Money. Download the book for free, here.