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Does your demise signal the end of your business?

Inevitable as it is we spend little time talking about death and even less time planning for what we want to happen to our business after we are gone.

A lot of exit planning deals with preparing a business for sale to a trade buyer, the management team or to an investor. This is valuable and rewarding work whether or not you decide to sell.

Related: Exit planning

However if your exit comes about through your demise, particularly a sudden and unexpected death, what will happen to your business? How will the outcome impact your family? Whilst this is a topic many wish to avoid addressing the consequences on your family, at an already very difficult time, can be severe.

We can’t plan for every eventuality and we can’t control the timing of all the events ahead, however we can ask some questions, determine the most likely answers and then decide how to prepare.

As a business owner you may wish to consider the answers to the following questions:

  1. In the event of your death what income will your family have to live on and for how long? You will have been earning money from your business and taking money out in the form of dividends and salary. This may or may not have met your family’s immediate requirements and you may have contemplated further income from the growth of the business or through a sale of your shares. If this is not now going to happen how well-prepared is your family?
  2. If you are married, or have made express provisions in a will, the ownership of your business may pass to your spouse or partner. This may seem a sensible decision when considered from the perspective of what happens to your estate, however what is your surviving partner going to do with this inheritance? Are they capable or willing to run the business to generate the income they need? If they are keen to sell the business is it in good shape for a sale and would they know how to achieve the best outcome?
  3. Where you are the co-owner of a business, as opposed to the sole shareholder, how will your surviving life and business partners manage the business? Will they get on? Will they have the same objectives? Do they have complementary skills and experiences to bring to the business? A similar situation may arise with a son or daughter. If it were your business partner to die, how would you cope with his or her shares passing to a member of their family? With some foresight and a fairly simple agreement in place such situations can be planned and managed in advance.
  4. The loss of the owner or co-owner can be a mortal blow to the company too. Even if ownership is thought through and planned for, the capability of the business to continue on its chosen path can be compromised through over reliance on the former owner and lack of a succession plan. To a lesser extent the symptoms of this can be seen with owners feeling unable to take time away for a holiday or being absent for an extended period, for example through sickness. Succession planning is not simply a case of hiring a senior manager and hoping they are able to step up when required, it is a strategic step that has many benefits from helping you shoulder the workload, to allowing you time away and creating a smooth transition of ownership and control in the event of your demise.
  5. What will become of the company when you are no longer at the helm? You may have built a strong reputation with your clients, be a valued route to market for suppliers, been an employer who has helped others develop and progress in their own lives, you may have contributed in the local business community either as part of a corporate social responsibility plan or more informally. In addition to considering commercial and tangible matters you may also care about the image, name and reputation of the business when you are gone.

There are many answers to these questions and much will depend on your own situation, preferences and values. Asking yourself these questions and coming up with answers puts you in a position to achieve your preferred outcome. Leaving it to chance or more likely leaving these matters to the friends and family you leave behind puts them in a difficult situation at the most difficult of times.

We work with business owners to help them ask and answer these questions. We also work with trusted associates with expertise in estate planning, wealth management, shareholder agreements, insurance and other specialisms which we can coordinate to ensure you get the plans you want, peace of mind and security for those you leave behind.  Contact us today to find out more.

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We’ve written a number of guides on selected business subjects that will set you and your business in good stead for whatever future you may choose.

These are free for you to download and to make use of in your business, so please help yourself.