Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Estate planning and business transition quite different

Business and asset owners (including farming operations), at some point in their career lives, must ask the eternal question, “What happens when I’m gone?” Answering this question is critical to understanding and planning for the disposition of assets both before and after death.

Two things are discussed often. One is estate planning, and the other is businesses transition. Many times these two processes are thought to be the same. Actually, they are very different.

Estate planning involves the transfer of wealth and assets of an individual, both personal and business related, from one person to another person or entity. It is important to note that estate planning does not need to pass assets to an individual. In some cases, business asset (tangible and intangible) ownership is transferred to a legal entity, such as a corporation, limited liability company, or a trust.

The myth that only old people or rich people need to have an estate plan is short-sighted. You never know when you might become incapacitated or suffer a premature death.

We avoid discussing estate planning because it forces us to consider our own mortality, greatly postponing the process. Even for the young, who might not have acquired much wealth, the planning process considers the disposition of assets and interest they might not know exist, such as being an insurance beneficiary to a living parent, or intended guardians for young children.

If you have anything of value and an intention for the passage of that asset or interest after your death, you need an estate plan.

Business transition involves the transfer of a business asset or entity from an existing owner seeking to exit, to new ownership. The new owner need not be younger than the existing owner to qualify as a business transfer.

Typically, the transfer of a business occurs during the life of the existing owner. When the transfer of a business occurs post-mortem, it typically occurs through an existing or implied estate plan or asset transfer process. The process of business transfer is often dynamic, involving multiple steps, depending on the wishes of the existing owner.

It is possible that the investment and asset transfer can take a short period, or a very long period, depending on the valuation of the business and the resources of the transferee. The transfer of the tangible and intangible assets can take place through cash purchase of individual items, purchase of share interest, and/or purchase of stock or certificates.

There are a number of similarities between estate plans and transition plans; however, the greatest difference is timing of the transfer. Estate plans consider the transfer of tangible and intangible assets and interests beyond the life of the owner, while the business transfer plan considers transfers during the life of the owner. Neither functions in a vacuum, nor is intended to be a replacement for the other. Instead, they work together, often in tandem, to fulfill the wishes of the business owner.