5 Estate Planning Essentials for Entrepreneurs

November 30, 2023

You’ve worked hard to make your business a success. So, it’s important to ensure that your business can continue to run smoothly and deliver value to your family, team, and customers even if you’re no longer at the helm.

It’s a task that entrepreneurs often put off in favor of more pressing day-to-day demands, but it’s crucial to create an estate plan that takes your business assets into account. A sound plan will specify how assets will be distributed, who will take over leadership of the business, and – most importantly – how your loved ones will be supported.

Estate planning for small business owners usually requires thorough discussions with financial advisors, lawyers, accountants, colleagues, and family members. But you can get started now by thinking over these five basic steps:

  1. Write Your Will
    Make sure your last will and testament includes clear and complete instructions for the distribution of your business assets. Name someone you trust to be the executor of your will; they will be responsible for carrying out all your wishes. You’ll also need to determine who will receive your important documents and business information, such as bank records and login credentials for online accounts. Compile and store this information separately from your will so it’s not filed publicly in probate court.
  1. Draft a Power of Attorney
    Designate a reliable person to serve as your agent (or “attorney-in-fact”) should you become incapacitated by accident or illness. In such a circumstance, your agent would be tasked with carrying out your key business responsibilities, such as paying creditors, filing taxes, and handling payroll for your staff. Consider your personal and business goals, and then work with an experienced estate attorney to craft a power of attorney that clearly lays out the agent’s obligations and rights.
  1. Form a Revocable Living Trust
    A last will and testament is a public document that is probated in court. Distributing your business assets through probate court can be a slow and costly process, and it can also expose sensitive information to the public. A revocable living trust can be a more efficient and discreet alternative that helps your estate avoid probate and allows a smoother ownership transition for your business. This option lets you manage and update the assets within the trust for as long as you remain the trustee.
  1. Establish a Buy-Sell Agreement
    If your business has multiple owners, having a buy-sell agreement in place can be helpful in determining how your ownership interest will be distributed in the event of your death. It’s also important in case you declare bankruptcy, go through a divorce, or experience another adverse financial event. It’s common for business partners to purchase key person insurance or a life insurance policy for each owner, with the other owner or owners listed as beneficiaries. The payout can then be used to purchase the ownership interest of the deceased owner.
  1. Create a Succession Plan
    One of the best ways to support your enterprise’s long-term success is to create a business succession plan that can ensure a seamless transition of leadership. Your plan should specify who will take ownership – a family member, a business partner, or an outside buyer – and establish a timeline for this transition. An independent valuation of your business’s tangible and intangible assets is often a critical component of this process; consult an accredited business appraiser to find out whether you need one. You should also consult your accountant, lawyer, and financial advisor.

Thinking Ahead

Contact ENB to help develop a comprehensive strategy designed to reduce potential tax consequences, preserve your wealth, and protect your legacy.