Transferring Business Ownership to a Family Member

If you’re like many Florida business owners, you may view retirement with both excitement and misgivings. Even as you look forward to having more time to enjoy favorite activities, the idea of moving on from your livelihood can be anxiety-inducing.

One option that allows you to step away and still experience the benefits of retirement is bringing family into the picture.

The formal requirements under the Florida Business Corporation Act aren’t too complicated, but there’s a bigger picture to consider when you transfer business ownership to a family member.

As soon as you begin seriously thinking about retiring, time is of the essence to start planning. You’re in a better position to leave on your own terms, maintain control over the process, and reap the benefits of a steady retirement income. You should discuss the specifics with an experienced Florida business law attorney, especially three key topics that may guide your decision making.

Your Company’s Value 

There are numerous factors to consider about your own retirement situation, but you may also have concerns about your company’s well-being and longevity in moving forward without you. For many closely held companies, there’s significant value attached to the people that built them.

When your own unique, personal input is an asset to the business, you need to assess the extent to which the company can survive after you sell it – or whether it can maintain a good proportion of its value by transferring business ownership to a family member.

The analysis starts with an unofficial business valuation, typically a basic review of assets, expenses, accounts receivable, and debts, along with the value of your personal reputation and good will. Then, you’d determine whether the total dollar figure could be enough for a comfortable retirement, exclusive of other savings, pensions, and investment income.

If you’re convinced that your business would perform well without you at the helm, you need to work out an official business valuation through generally accepted accounting standards. Not only is this necessary for making a decision on transfer or sale, but also for the tax implications in evaluating your expected retirement income.

Your Individual Retirement Needs 

Retirement is a major life transition for anyone, and even more so for someone who owns a business. When considering your own needs for income, you must assess how far your retirement will go for a wide range of expenses, such as:

  • Your basic needs, including your mortgage, utilities
  • Health insurance and medical costs;
  • Car leases;
  • Services you’re used to gaining through the company, such as tax preparation, and club memberships; and,
  • Other expenses that you’ll now be responsible for covering yourself.

You must also consider how to apportion your retirement income to cover these costs, especially the amount that comes from transferring your business as compared to your income from investments and other assets. For this reason, as early on as possible in your planning, you should be contributing to a retirement fund that will suit your needs – aside from what you’d make through a sale of your business or transfer to a family member.

Keep in mind that you could make arrangements to stay on and play a role with your company when you transfer ownership to a close relative. Many former business owners can serve on the board of directors or in a consultative role, enabling them to make an income without taking full control of operations. You can make an important contribution if you’re serving and maintaining relationships with customers who have been dealing with you directly for years.

Options for Structuring the Transfer 

If you’re leaning toward transferring ownership of your business to family members or trusted employees – as opposed to a third party – there are multiple options and structures to consider. You should discuss the specific pros and cons with a business law attorney, but you might look into:

  • Gift Transfer: You could transfer ownership to the other party as a gift, with the caveat that you’ll earn income form the new owners. As of 2017, the Internal Revenue Code allows you to claim an individual gift exemption of $10 million – or $20 million if you execute the deal with a spouse. Because the laws allow for annual adjustments for inflation, the exemption is $11.4 million and $22.8 million for 2019, respectively. The amounts increase for the next few years. This means you could leverage the business transfer as a gift without adverse tax implications, in some cases. Once the business is no longer part of your estate upon your death, you won’t incur tax liability when the company expands
  • Financed Sale: You may opt to act as a lender in transferring the business to a family member, and there are many ways to structure the transaction. Through a promissory note, you can obtain payments directly from the buyer based upon an amortized schedule – or installment payments followed by a balloon. During the pendency of the arrangement, you’ll make a steady, regular income to maintain a comfortable retirement lifestyle.
  • Partial Sale & Lease Back: If your company has considerable holdings in real estate, a building, or other property, you could sell the business – but retain ownership over these assets. Then, you can rent them back to your family members as new owners of the company. There are tax advantages, but the key benefit is that you can fund your retirement through the lease payments. Keep in mind that you need to include specific provisions when drafting the documents to transfer your business, as disputes can arise when family members are caught off-guard by a lease relationship.

“Succession planning, particularly where it involves transferring ownership or operation of a business to children or other family members, must start with the question: ‘What is the best interest of each party?’ Sometimes its easier to jump ahead to talking about available structures before having complete understanding and agreement on the goals.”

BrewerLong Attorney Trevor Brewer

Contact an Orlando, FL Business Law Attorney for Help with Transfers of Ownership

As you can see, there are many complicated issues involved with a transfer of business ownership to a family member. You don’t have to make these complex, life-changing decisions on your own, however. You can count on our team at BrewerLongfor assistance, so please call 407.660.2964 or fill out an online contact form to set up your free consultation today. 

Author Photo

Trevor Brewer

Primarily working with business owners and their families, Trevor advises clients on business structuring and sale transactions, regulatory compliance, third-party contracts, liability protection and general matters facing small business owners. His focus extends beyond legal advice and includes business strategy and wealth preservation. Trevor also works with families regarding their estate planning needs, including probate, trust administration, and wills.

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