A Fair Family Transition

Recently I worked with a client who was very active in their  business and had no intention of leaving anytime soon. They were not interested in selling the business to a third party; instead, they wanted to pass it along to their child who worked in the business. Their child was very active in the business and earned their way up to a mid-level manager position. While additional development was still needed, in a few years they would be ready to take over.

Once this decision was made, a slew of other questions needed to be answered. One of the most important being: what should they do about the other sibling who has no desire to be part of the business?

As a first-generation business owner, building a fair transition plan for your children can be a complex process. While you may want to treat your children equally, the reality is that they may have different levels of involvement and interest in the family business. It is crucial to approach the transition plan in a way that acknowledges these differences and ensures that each child is treated fairly, even if it is not always equal.

Some key considerations and steps that you can take to build a fair transition plan for your family business include:

Start Early and Communicate Clearly

Transition planning should start early, ideally years before you plan to step down from the business. This gives you time to assess your children’s interests, strengths, and weaknesses and to have open and honest conversations with them about their roles and expectations – as well as your own transitioning role and expectations. Communication is key to ensuring that each child’s needs and goals are understood and addressed in the transition plan. Involve your family in the process and keep them informed of your intentions and decisions.

Identify Your Successor and Define Their Role

If one of your children is interested in taking over the family business, it is essential to identify them as the successor and to define their role clearly. This will give them the clarity and direction they need to prepare for their future role and to build relationships with key stakeholders, such as employees, suppliers, and customers. Ensure that your successor has the necessary skills and experience to run the business successfully. Consider providing them with training or mentorship opportunities if needed.

Decide on Gifting, Selling or Earning

A common dilemma is how to handle the financial components of an ownership transition particularly when it is a family member. Should it be gifted, earned, purchased or some combination? Whether a gift, purchase at a fair market value, an inheritance, or includes a vesting schedule, be sure to consult with a business adviser to consider what makes the most sense for your business, your family and your legacy.

Provide for Your Non-Business Children

If you have children who have no interest in the family business, it is essential to provide for them in the transition plan. This may include an equal opportunity to purchase or distribute assets, such as real estate, investments, or other holdings. You may also want to consider providing your non-business children with other benefits, such as life insurance, a trust fund, or a portion of the business’s profits.

Consider Tax Implications

Transferring ownership of a business can have significant tax implications, so it is important to consider these in the transition plan. Consult with a tax professional to determine the most tax-efficient way to transfer ownership to your successor and to provide for your non-business child.

Review and Revise Regularly

Your transition plan should be reviewed and revised regularly, especially if there are changes in your family’s circumstances or the business’s performance. Ensure that the plan is flexible enough to accommodate unforeseen events, such as illness or death, and that your children understand the plan’s provisions.

Building a fair transition plan for your family business requires careful consideration of each child’s needs and goals. With these steps, you can ensure that your family business continues to thrive and that your children are treated fairly, even if not necessarily equally.

Linda Ruffenach

Founder / Chief Strategic Officer at Execuity. Linda is an experienced entrepreneur, skilled facilitator, and bourbon badass. Her 20+ years of C-level experience enables her to relate to the challenges business owners face every day. As the former CEO of a $100 million international enterprise, she has been through almost every stage a company can experience from fast growth, rapid decline, to complete transformation. In addition to running multiple businesses, Linda is Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Louisville's School of Business, leading and mentoring undergrad and graduate students on their path to business ownership Linda’s superpower is turning strategy into results.