Estate planning — and more specifically, business succession planning — is essential for anyone who owns a small business because typically the business is the largest asset in the owner’s estate. This is not just a tax issue. Without business succession planning, it’s unlikely that your business will survive to the next generation or sell for its true value. This assumes, of course, that succession or sale is a goal.

Here are six business succession planning mistakes to avoid.

Waiting too long to plan. An ideal succession plan requires laying the groundwork over many years — some experts recommend planning your exit strategy from the day you start the business. How you want to exit the business tomorrow strongly influences how you structure and operate the business today.

Assuming the children will take over the business. Talk to your children to determine what they really want. Learn their desires as soon as possible in order to pursue other avenues if necessary, such as selling to an employee or partner or finding an outside buyer.

Dividing the business equally among heirs. Equitable doesn’t have to mean equal, and in the case of a business, establishing an equal partnership among heirs can be a recipe for disaster. As an alternative, determine which child has the talent and genuine desire to run your business, and plan a way to leave your other children non business assets, such as proceeds from life insurance.

Overlooking the possibility of a disability. Most business succession plans address the owner’s retirement or premature death, but may overlook the possibility that the business owner could become disabled and no longer able to run the business. A good succession plan addresses this possibility.
Failing to fund the succession plan. If your plan is to sell your business to a family member, partner, employee or outside buyer at your death, disability or retirement, how will they come up with the funds to purchase the business? Loans and cash are two options, but also analyze the pros and cons of using life and disability buyout insurance to fund a succession plan.

Planning alone. Business succession planning is complicated. The tax issues alone should send you to an expert for advice. In addition, consider working with an outside expert who can lead family meetings and ease family conflicts by providing a knowedgeable, objective perspective.

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