Financial Fitness: Protect your family business

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There’s nothing more important in the world to you than your family. Your family-owned business probably helps support your family, so when it comes to protecting both, you need to carefully consider your moves.

You face plenty of challenges to keep your business running smoothly—but it can be even more difficult to pass the family business on to your children or other relatives. Why is it so hard to keep a family business intact? Sometimes it’s because no one in the family is interested in running it. Most frequently, businesses disintegrate because of the lack of a succession plan.

To create a succession plan, your first step—and possibly the most important one—is to collect the thoughts and preferences of family members on their future involvement. It’s essential that you know who wants to really do the day-to-day work and who is capable. During these conversations, you’ll also want to discuss other key business-succession issues, such as the retirement goals and cash flow needs of retiring owners and the personal and financial goals of the next generation of management.

In developing a plan, you will need to work with a legal professional, in addition to a financial professional. You may start with determining who will control and manage the business, and who will eventually own it. These decisions will depend on a variety of factors, such as the time horizon, goals and financial needs of the family members involved.

Your succession plan could incorporate an estate freeze. An estate freeze is a tax and estate planning strategy used to lock in or “freeze” the value of the business today and transfer any future growth to your family members. There are several ways to establish an estate freeze.

Another component of your succession plan might be a “buy-sell” agreement, which allows you to name the buyer for your business—such as one of your children—and establish methods to determine the sale price. Your child could then purchase an insurance policy on your life and eventually use the proceeds to buy the business, according to the terms established in the buy-sell agreement.

We’ve just skimmed the surface of techniques that might be used alone or in combination to carry out your business succession. The transfer can be complex, so you will need to consult with legal and financial professionals. It’s important that you fully understand the business and tax implications of any succession plan, as well as the financial effects of a plan on all your family members.

Once you’ve created your succession plan, you’ll need to work with your legal adviser to put it in writing and communicate it clearly to all family members. Surprises are welcome in many parts of life—but not when it comes to transferring a family business.

You want to leave your family a legacy. And if that legacy is the family business, then you will want to take the appropriate steps to pass it on in a manner that benefits everyone involved. This will take time and planning — but it can be well worth the effort.

Deborah Leahy is a financial adviser with Edward Jones, member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund.

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