Business owners need estate plans in order to ensure their businesses survive once they pass away. Here is why. Let’s say you own a successful business. It has lots of employees and ongoing business. There are contracts that need to be completed, and staff that needs to be paid. Then you die. You have a Will that names your spouse as the Personal Representative (executor). However, Wills need to be probated, and normally the soonest that can happen is one week from the date of death. Assuming there aren’t any hangups (such as the Will failing to waive bond), the surviving spouse can be appointed as Personal Representative right away.
But a week can be an eternity in the business world. Employment laws dictate that payroll needs to be paid within a certain time after the pay period ends. And what if there are employees in the field who need expenses covered?
Also, who is going to manage the business until it gets sold? Selling a business can’t be done in a matter of days. It takes time. Can your business last the months is normally takes to find a buyer and arrange a sale?
Here is the best way to plan ahead of time. The best way to plan ahead is to have a revocable trust that names a responsible (and business savvy) trustee to take over if you can no longer manage your business. Then make sure that your trust owns the business. If your business is an LLC, the member of the business needs to be the trust. (In other words, you will file Articles of Amendment for your LLC that replaces you as the member with, for example, “John Doe, Trustee of the ABC Trust, dated January 1, 2014.”) Make sure the trust language permits the trustee to manage an ongoing business, and that it permits the trustee to delegate the responsibility of managing the business to a replacement business manager.
NOTE: The word “manager” is used in two different ways here, and it can be confusing. The “manager” of an LLC is the person listed with the Secretary of State as the person in charge of the LLC. However, in terms of managing a business, that may be completely different people. I normally assist clients in this regard by having the LLC Manager (the person named as the official manager on the Articles of Organization) sign a Resolution naming one or more assistant managers. These assistant managers are the people who are actually on the ground running the business: making sure that paychecks get signed, continuing marketing efforts, meeting with clients, etc.
You can read more on this topic at an enterprise.com article here.
Have you heard of situations in which the business owner died and the business struggled as a result? Do you have any insights? Please share below.