How Business Owners Undo Their Years of Hard Work

When it comes to preparing for retirement, transitioning their business and putting a succession plan in place, many small business owners simply aren’t realistic, says the article “Business Owners Dream (Wrongly) of an Easy Retirement Transition” from Plan Advisor. While it’s great that they believe in their businesses, by putting every last dollar they have into the business, thinking they will reap the rewards when it’s time to sell, they put themselves in a risky position.

Many small business owners treat their business as their nest egg. That may not be wrong, but if there is no other estate planning or retirement planning, there are a number of ways this could go wrong.

For one thing, it’s not likely that the value of the business at the time of the sale can be guaranteed. What if the value of the business is not as strong as the owner thinks it is? It’s better to have more than a few eggs in a retirement basket, including savings in retirement accounts that provide tax advantages.

The business owner can open a 401(k), SEP-IRA, SIMPLE or a pension plan. Because these types of accounts are tax deferred, the investments can grow while avoiding taxation. The best retirement plan for any small business owner depends upon how much income the business generates, how stable earnings are, how many employees there are and how generous the business owner wishes to be with the full-time employees.

This last factor matters because the law requires most tax-deferred plans to be fair to all employees. A business owner cannot open a 401(k) for themselves and exclude full-time employees. However, the appreciation of employees for having a 401(k) plan should be considered. By investing in an employee retirement plan, and perhaps a matching program, the business becomes more attractive to current and future employees.

Estate planning is a critical piece of the succession plan. A true family legacy plan needs to go beyond defining who will be in charge of the business and estate if the owner dies, and how the business and any other assets will be divided. If there is no will, the state’s laws will govern how assets are divided.

An estate planning attorney who routinely works with business owners will be able to help with the formation of a succession plan, with an eye to fulfilling the owner’s goals for themselves and their family. It should be understood that any succession plan needs to work in conjunction with the overall estate plan, so that both can achieve their respective goals.

For a succession plan to work, it needs to be put into place five to ten years in advance. If a sale of the business is at the heart of the plan, it can take five years to value the businesses’ profitability, formalize the management structure, identify a solid buyer, determine how the transition will be made, etc.

Reference: Plan Advisor (December 12, 2019) “Business Owners Dream (Wrongly) of an Easy Retirement Transition”

Succession Planning for Family Owned Farms

Succession planning is not thought of as fun, simple, or quick. That’s true. A recent article from Ag Web puts it clearly: “Succession Planning Takes Leadership.” It also takes time, knowledge and the guidance from smart professionals, including estate planning attorneys, financial advisors and accountants. Let’s look at these four important elements.

Clarity. Transitioning leaders need to answer a few questions. What do they want for themselves, for their operation and what do stakeholders want? Developing a successful plan by guessing what other family members want, rather than asking them directly can undo good planning. Having private conversations with individual members of the family will lead to more honest answers.

Certainty. Many times, families are not in perfect harmony about what succession looks like, which can lead to some uncertainty. Family leaders must step up and be decisive, and their decisions may not be popular with everyone. However, if a leader lets someone else make decisions, the situation becomes murky and confusing.

Continuity. It can take two or five years to create a succession plan, depending on the complexity of the operation and the number of family members involved. The actual succession itself can take ten years to unwind, depending on the time horizon for the transitioning leadership. A big problem for any process that takes so long, is the loss of focus and momentum. Your team of professionals should be able to help mitigate this challenge.

Communication. A strategy for communication needs to be built into the succession plan, although it is often overlooked. Develop a timeline and establish when you will communicate progress and/or milestones to stakeholders. Your professional team may be needed to help with both the timeline and the communication strategy. Family members need to know what is happening, even when it seems like nothing big is occurring.

With strong leadership in each of these four factors, the succession plan is more likely to succeed. With less stress and an increased level of trust and clear communication, the family will work together to achieve the leader’s goals.

Reference: Ag Web (December 5, 2019) “Succession Planning Takes Leadership”

Protect the Family Farm with Advance Planning

Have you figured out who will take over the family farm? Are you or your parents prepared to transition the farm or ranch to the next generation? How will family members be part of the transitions? Do you have a plan to minimize tax exposure?

These are just a few of the questions that must be addressed about the future of the family farm or ranch, reports the article “Don’t be a failed family-business statistic: Plan for your farm’s future” from High Plains Drifter. It’s one of the hardest parts of the agriculture business. Decades of hard work and assets are at stake, and the statistics are not great. Only 30% of any kind of family businesses survive to the second generation.

You need a long-term strategy and planning that needs to be started long before any member of the family begins thinking about retirement. You’ll also need good advisors, including an estate planning attorney, accountant and possibly a banker.

What is a succession plan? A succession plan is a forward-looking strategy that prepares the individual and their family for the change in ownership, including development of leadership to avoid family disputes, manage tax consequences and ensure that the farm or ranch smoothly transitions to the next generation of owners.

The estate plan provides the mechanics to implement the succession plan. It can be complicated, so an experienced estate planning attorney who has worked with farm or ranch owners will be invaluable.

Here are three key areas where guidance is critical:

On-farm and off-farm heirs. How do you balance the inheritance of children who remain on the farm and those who chose to pursue other occupations? An objective viewpoint is needed, and a calm head. There are different ownership structures that can be used to define the roles and expectations for both on-farm and off- farm heirs.

Smooth financial transition. It is important to lessen tax liability and maximize benefits. Cash will be needed to pay estate taxes. This is where many family businesses are lost: a key asset must be sold to pay the tax bill, and it dampens the chances of success for the future.

Address financial needs of current and future generations. Can the business support multiple generations? What does everyone need to continue living on the farm, and how will the income be generated?

Family farms and ranches that survive to the second or third generations don’t happen by accident. Succession plans need to be created and then they need to be reviewed every few years. If you have a will or an estate plan, if you haven’t updated it in five years, it’s time to review it or create one.

Reference: High Plains Journal (Nov. 8, 2019) “Don’t be a failed family-business statistic: Plan for your farm’s future”

How to Avoid an Epic Fail of a Business Succession Plan

For the business owner, the success of their business impacts their daily lives. The success of their succession plans (say that five times fast!) is inexorably linked to having a well-conceived and properly prepared plan, that is coordinated with their estate plan. Both plans need to be built to withstand challenges, which are outlined in the article “Five events that can ruin a succession plan” from Kenosha News.

Let’s take a closer look at the “Five D’s of Succession Planning.”

Death. Believe it or not, businesses can succeed in the face of their owner’s death. However, this is only if all of the right steps are taken, and the right people are prepared to lead. If the business owner has named a successor, created a plan and purchased business interruption insurance and/or life insurance, the business has a shot at continuing. However, in most cases, the estate plan fails to address leadership succession, liquidity and leadership.

Disability or Disease. Sometimes disability and disease can be worse than death to a business. If the right advisors and plan is in place for death, the business may survive. However, a sick or disabled business owner, especially if they have been the only ones making key decisions, may be less likely to survive. If a disabled business owner has lost some cognitive function and is not able to make the best decisions on behalf of their business and their employees, the business may lose value.

Divorce. Nothing destroys a business, like extended litigation. This is often what happens when divorce occurs. A smart couple will work together, despite their personal acrimony to protect the value of the business and their joint assets. Tearing each other apart harms children and businesses. The best approach is to have a plan created for what would happen to the business, if the couple divorced. Think of it as a prenup for the business.

Drama. Our tendencies toward drama impact businesses. If there is a succession plan and those plans are communicated to the leaders, who make clear to middle management and employees that there are plans in place to continue the business, the company can remain stable. In their absence, rumors will impact everyone, from key employees to management, to vendors. Nothing hurts a business more when other companies in the same business are gossiping about its impending demise. The shining stars of the company will flee for more stable opportunities. Vendors may refuse credit. It spirals downward.

Drive. Most business owners are self-driven individuals who love to see their inspiration, ideas and energy grow into successful businesses. When it’s time to get into the weeds of details, or manage people, they’re not that interested. Or, they dig into the details and the company depends upon one person to succeed—rarely a good idea. When that drive is lost and there’s no plan to hand things over to the next generation or key employees, the business can slump, lose value and eventually, close its doors.

A strong succession plan does more than protect the owner. It protects the owner’s family, employees and their families and communities. An estate planning attorney who routinely works with business owners will be familiar with the strategies available to ensure that all the pieces are in place to continue the business and protect the family.

Reference: Kenosha News (August 25, 2019) “Five events that can ruin a succession plan”

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