Business owners are regularly urged to create and update their succession plans. And rightfully so — in the event of an ownership change, a solid succession plan can help prevent conflicts and preserve the legacy you’ve spent years or decades building.

But if you want to take your succession plan to the next level, consider expanding its scope beyond ownership. Many companies have key employees, perhaps a CFO or an account executive, who play a critical role in the success of the business.

Your succession plan could include any employee who’s considered indispensable and difficult to replace because of experience, industry or technical knowledge, or other characteristics.

Look to the future

The first step is to identify those you consider essential employees. Whose departure would have the most significant consequence for your business and its strategic plan? Then, when you have a list of names, who might succeed them?

Pinpointing successors calls for more than simply reviewing or updating job descriptions. The right candidates must have the capability to carry out your company’s short- and long-term strategic plans and goals, which their job descriptions might not reflect.

Succession planning should take a forward-looking perspective. The current jobholder’s skills, experience and qualifications are only a starting point. What worked for the last 10 or 20 years might not cut it for the next 10 or 20.

Identify your HiPos

When the time comes, many businesses publicize open positions and invite external candidates to apply. However, it’s easier (and often advantageous) to groom internal candidates before the need arises. To do so, you’ll want to identify your “high potential” (HiPo) employees — those with the ambition, motivation and ability to move up substantially in your organization.

Assess your staff using performance evaluations, discussions about career plans and other tools to determine who can assume greater responsibility now, in a year or in several years. And look beyond the executive or management level; you may discover HiPos in lower-ranking positions.

Develop individual action plans

Once you’ve identified potential internal candidates, develop individual plans for each to follow. Consider your business’s needs, as well as each candidate’s personality and learning style.

An action plan should include multiple components. One example is job shadowing. It will give the candidate a good sense of what is involved in the position under consideration. Other components could include leadership roles on special projects, training, and mentoring and coaching.

Share your vision for the person’s future to ensure common goals. You can update action plans as your company’s and employees’ needs evolve.

Account for the job market

Succession planning beyond ownership is more important than ever in a tight job market. Vacancies for key employees are often difficult to fill — especially for demanding, highly skilled and top-tier positions. We’d be happy to help you review your succession plan and identify which positions may have the greatest financial impact on the continued profitability of your business.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

For many business owners, putting together a succession plan may seem like an overwhelming task. It might even seem unnecessary for those who are relatively young and have no intention of giving up ownership anytime soon.

But if the past year or so have taught us anything, it’s that anything can happen. Owners who’ve built up considerable “sweat equity” in their companies shouldn’t risk liquidation or seeing the business end up in someone else’s hands only because there’s no succession plan in place.

Variations on a theme

To help you get your arms around the concept of succession planning, you can look at it from three different perspectives:

1. The long view. If you have many years to work with, use this gift of time to identify one or more talented individuals who share your values and have the aptitude to successfully run the company. This is especially important for keeping a family-owned business in the family.

As soon as you’ve identified a successor, and he or she is ready, you can begin mentoring the incoming leader to competently run the company and preserve your legacy. Meanwhile, you can carefully identify how to best fund your retirement and structure your estate plan.

2. An imminent horizon. Many business owners wake up one day and realize that they’re almost ready to retire, or move on to another professional endeavor, but they’ve spent little or no time putting together a succession plan. In such a case, you may still be able to choose and train a successor. However, you’ll likely also want to explore alternatives such as selling the company to a competitor or other buyer. Sometimes even liquidation is the optimal move financially.

In any case, the objective here is less about maintaining the strategic direction of the company and more about ensuring you receive an equitable payout for your ownership share. If you’re a co-owner, a buy-sell agreement is highly advisable. It’s also critical to set a firm departure date and work with a qualified team of advisors.

3. A sudden emergency. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought renewed attention to emergency succession planning. True to its name, this approach emphasizes enabling the business to maintain operations immediately after an unforeseen event causes the owner’s death or disability.

If your company doesn’t yet have an emergency succession plan, you should probably create one before you move on to a longer-term plan. Name someone who can take on a credible leadership role if you become seriously ill or injured. Formulate a plan for communicating and delegating duties during a crisis. Make sure everyone knows about the emergency succession plan and how it will affect day-to-day operations, if executed.

Create the future

As with any important task, the more time you give yourself to create a succession plan, the fewer mistakes or oversights you’re likely to make. Our firm can help you create or refine a plan that suits your financial needs, personal wishes and vision for the future of your company.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Transferring a family business to the next generation requires a delicate balancing act. Estate and succession planning strategies aren’t always compatible, and family members often have conflicting interests. By starting early and planning carefully, however, it’s possible to resolve these conflicts and transfer the business in a tax-efficient manner.

Ownership vs. management succession

One reason transferring a family business is such a challenge is the distinction between ownership and management succession. From an estate planning perspective, transferring assets to the younger generation as early as possible allows you to remove future appreciation from your estate, minimizing estate taxes. However, you may not be ready to hand over the reins of your business or you may feel that your children aren’t yet ready to take over.

There are several ways owners can transfer ownership without immediately giving up control, including:

  • Using a family limited partnership (FLP),
  • Transferring nonvoting stock, or
  • Establishing an employee stock ownership plan.

Another reason to separate ownership and management succession is to deal with family members who aren’t involved in the business. It’s not unusual for a family business owner to have substantially all of his or her wealth tied up in the business.

Providing heirs outside the business with nonvoting stock or other equity interests that don’t confer control can be an effective way to share the wealth with them while allowing those who work in the business to take over management.

Conflicting financial needs

Another challenge presented by family businesses is that the older and younger generations may have conflicting financial needs. Fortunately, strategies are available to generate cash flow for the owner while minimizing the burden on the next generation. They include:

An installment sale. This provides liquidity for the owner while improving the chances that the younger generation’s purchase can be funded by cash flows from the business. Plus, so long as the price and terms are comparable to arm’s-length transactions between unrelated parties, the sale shouldn’t trigger gift or estate taxes.

A grantor retained annuity trust (GRAT). By transferring business interests to a GRAT, the owner obtains a variety of gift and estate tax benefits (provided he or she survives the trust term) while enjoying a fixed income stream for a period of years. At the end of the term, the business is transferred to the owner’s children or other beneficiaries. GRATs are typically designed to be gift-tax-free.

An installment sale to an intentionally defective grantor trust (IDGT). Essentially a properly structured IDGT allows an owner to sell the business on a tax-advantaged basis while enjoying an income stream and retaining control during the trust term. Once the installment payments are complete, the business passes to the owner’s beneficiaries free of gift taxes.

Each family business is different, so it’s important to identify appropriate strategies in light of your objectives and resources. We’d be pleased to help.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

What lenders look for in a succession plan

Business owners are urged to create succession plans for the good of their families and their employees. But there’s someone else who holds a key interest in the longevity of your company: Your lender.

If you want to maintain a clear path to acquiring the working capital your business may need after you’ve stepped down, it’s important to keep your lender apprised of your progress in putting a carefully considered succession plan in place.

A viable successor

One key operational issue that lenders look for in a succession plan to address is, simply, who will lead the enterprise after you? For family-owned businesses, finding a successor can be difficult. Children or other relatives may be qualified but have no interest in taking the reins. Or they may want to be involved but have insufficient experience.

To reassure your lender about issues such as these, take the time to identify and nurture future leaders. As early as possible, select someone who you believe holds leadership potential and educate the prospective successor in all aspects of running the business. This way, when control formally transfers, your lender will have confidence that the new leader is truly the boss and fully capable of making executive decisions.

None of this should happen overnight. You need to lay out a well-defined path for the successor under the assurance that his or her hard work during the transition period will eventually be rewarded with the leadership role, as well as ownership interests. Ideally, you’ll want to set a specific timeframe for the transfer of control and ownership to officially occur — all while keeping your lender in the loop.

Family communication

Most business owners have more than one heir to factor into succession planning. So, it’s important for lenders to know that the planning process involves the entire family, regardless of whether the individuals involved are active in the business’s day-to-day operations. This enables everyone to understand their roles — and the financial and personal consequences of an unsuccessful succession plan (which can adversely affect loan arrangements in place).

A common issue is how to equitably divide assets among heirs when only some of them will have control of or receive ownership interests in the business. If there are sufficient liquid assets, you can buy life insurance to provide for any children who won’t be involved in the business and give ownership interests only to those who will be involved. Or you might establish a family trust to own and operate the business, so that the entire family shares the risks and benefits.

Good standing

Your lender may not be top of mind as you ponder the many details of a succession plan. But it’s important to cover all the bases, including keeping your company in good standing for future loans. We can help you with all the tax, accounting and financial aspects of a good succession plan — including effective communication with your lender.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

Tax planning is a juggling act for business owners. You have to keep your eye on your company’s income and expenses and applicable tax breaks (especially if you own a pass-through entity). But you also must look out for your own financial future.

For example, you need to develop an exit strategy so that taxes don’t trip you up when you retire or leave the business for some other reason. An exit strategy is a plan for passing on responsibility for running the company, transferring ownership and extracting your money from the business.

Buy-sell agreement

When a business has more than one owner, a buy-sell agreement can be a powerful tool. The agreement controls what happens to the business when a specified event occurs, such as an owner’s retirement, disability or death. Among other benefits, a well-drafted agreement:

  • Provides a ready market for the departing owner’s shares,
  • Prescribes a method for setting a price for the shares, and
  • Allows business continuity by preventing disagreements caused by new owners.

A key issue with any buy-sell agreement is providing the buyer(s) with a means of funding the purchase. Life or disability insurance often helps fulfill this need and can give rise to several tax issues and opportunities. One of the biggest advantages of life insurance as a funding method is that proceeds generally are excluded from the beneficiary’s taxable income.

Succession within the family

You can pass your business on to family members by giving them interests, selling them interests or doing some of each. Be sure to consider your income needs, the tax consequences, and how family members will feel about your choice.

Under the annual gift tax exclusion, you can gift up to $15,000 of ownership interests without using up any of your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. Valuation discounts may further reduce the taxable value of the gift.

With the gift and estate tax exemption approximately doubled through 2025 ($11.4 million for 2019), gift and estate taxes may be less of a concern for some business owners. But others may want to make substantial transfers now to take maximum advantage of the high exemption. What’s right for you will depend on the value of your business and your timeline for transferring ownership.

Plan ahead

If you don’t have co-owners or want to pass the business to family members, other options include a management buyout, an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) or a sale to an outsider. Each involves a variety of tax and nontax considerations.

Please contact us at 205-345-9898 to discuss your exit strategy. To be successful, your strategy will require planning well in advance of the transition.

© 2018 Covenant CPA

Those who run family-owned businesses often underestimate the need for a succession plan. After all, they say, we’re a family business — there will always be a family member here to keep the company going and no one will stand in the way.

Not necessarily. In one all-too-common scenario, two of the owner’s children inherit the business and, while one wants to keep the business in the family, the other is eager to sell. Such conflicts can erupt into open combat between heirs and even destroy the company. So, it’s important for you, as a family business owner, to create a formal succession plan — and to communicate it well before it’s needed.

Talk it out

A good succession plan addresses the death, incapacity or retirement of an owner. It answers questions now about future ownership and any potential sale so that successors don’t have to scramble during what can be an emotionally traumatic time.

The key to making any plan work is to clearly communicate it with all stakeholders. Allow your children to voice their intentions. If there’s an obvious difference between siblings, resolving that conflict needs to be central to your succession plan.

Balancing interests

Perhaps the simplest option, if you have sufficient assets outside your business, is to leave your business only to those heirs who want to be actively involved in running it. You can leave assets such as investment securities, real estate or insurance policies to your other heirs.

Another option is for the heirs who’d like to run the business to buy out the other heirs. But they’ll need capital to do that. You might buy an insurance policy with proceeds that will be paid to the successor on your death. Or, as you near retirement, it may be possible to arrange buyout financing with your company’s current lenders.

If those solutions aren’t viable, hammer out a temporary compromise between your heirs. In a scenario where they are split about selling, the heirs who want to sell might compromise by agreeing to hold off for a specified period. That would give the other heirs time to amass capital to buy their relatives out or find a new co-owner, such as a private equity investor.

Family comes first

For a family-owned business, family should indeed come first. To ensure that your children or other relatives won’t squabble over the company after your death, make a succession plan that will accommodate all your heirs’ wishes. We can provide assistance, including helping you divide your assets fairly and anticipating the applicable income tax and estate tax issues. Call us at 205-345-9898.

© 2018 Covenant CPA