Business Succession Planning
For business owners, part of a comprehensive estate plan should include a succession plan for your business. It is important to start planning the succession of your business early and revisit it from time to time. This should not be a single, discrete task, but an ongoing process over time. The Canada Business Network, a government organization providing resources and information to businesses, suggests that the process of retiring or exiting from your business could take up to 5 years. Furthermore, in case of unexpected illness or death, you do not want to be left without a plan.
Your succession plan should include consideration of matters such as the vision for your business, the selection of a successor and a plan for their training, and the timeline for your transition out of the business. It could also include a plan with respect to how you might remain involved following your transition, and in what capacity.
You will need to consider whether you want to transfer the business to another person, or sell it, either to a partner, third party buyer, or even an employee. In a family business, you may wish to transfer the business to family members who have been involved in the business. This would ideally be implemented much earlier than your planned exit to allow family members to work in the business, learn it over time, and be prepared to take over when the time comes. If there are multiple family members involved, it may be difficult to decide who you wish to take over the responsibility, and may be even more difficult to communicate to those not selected. Regardless of how difficult this conversation may be, it should nonetheless be discussed sufficiently early to attempt as smooth a transition as possible.
It is also important to consider estate planning strategies specifically relating to the transition of your business. Some considerations could include how to transfer your shares to the successor in a way that minimizes tax, and whether you will be able to make use of the capital gains exemption from dispositions of Qualified Small Business Corporation shares. You may want to consider implementing an estate freeze by exchanging common shares for preferred shares, and issuing new common shares to your successors in order to freeze the value of your shares in the business. The value of future growth will then accrue to the common shares held by the successors. In this regard, and with respect to your entire succession plan, it would be wise to work with professional advisors to create and implement a tax-efficient method of transitioning your business that will work best for you.
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