Regardless of who is going to buy your business (a family member, key employee or someone else in the industry), the advisers you choose to work with will be very important to the successful transition of your company.
Most of your thoughts during the transition process will center around financial and retirement income security, tax planning for both you and your company, and the legal documents that are needed to define this transaction and protect you and your family in the future. The legal, tax, and financial decisions that you make will depend upon who the buyer is and the structure of the sale.
It is important to start picking your team of advisers three to five years before you intend to sell or transition the business. During those years leading up to the sale you want to spend some time each year with your advisers talking about planning ideas and what you can do to get the company ready for this important sale.
Tax planning is very important to every aspect of this pending transaction. You want to make sure your accountant has been through this type of transaction many times before and knows all the good options that are appropriate for the company’s tax return and for your personal tax return. If your accountant does not have a lot of experience in this area, continue to use him for your personal tax return, but possibly he could recommend another accounting firm to bring in to help on this one transaction.
Legal documents will be very important because they will explain exactly what and how assets are being sold, what the buyer is bringing to the table and all of the terms that have been agreed to by the seller and the buyer. If you are selling the company to one of your children then there may be some promissory notes involved and stock gifting. If you are selling to someone else in the industry then a sale may be for all cash and the legal documents will outline in great detail the value of the assets for the new owner to start depreciating. If the sale is to a family member or key employee it will be important to have a Buy-Sell Agreement prepared in order to control the transition of the stock over several years.
It is important to have a financial adviser who can help you with decisions pertaining to assets that would be coming out of the company to you, and also the long-term management of the sales proceeds and your retirement assets. During this process you will be moving from having a salary and corporate profits each year to having income generated by your sales proceeds and the personal investments that you have accumulated over the years. This is a big adjustment for most business owners, and that is why planning is important two or three years before the sale.
Try to pick a financial adviser who has worked with many family business transitions and can work closely with your chosen attorneys and accountants. It is important that all of these advisers be able to talk to each other during the two or three years leading up to the sale.