Overview: Buy-Sell Agreements and Your Small Business
If you co-own a business, you need a buy-sell agreement. Also called a buyout agreement, this document is essentially the business world’s equivalent of a prenup. An effective buy-sell agreement helps prevent conflict between the company’s owners, while also preserving the company’s closely held status. Any business with more than one owner should address this issue upfront, before problems arise.
With a proper buy-sell agreement, all business owners are protected in the event one of the owners wishes to leave the company. The buy-sell agreement establishes clear procedures that must be followed if an owner retires, sells his or her shares, divorces his or her spouse, becomes disabled, or dies. The agreement will establish the price and terms of a buyout, ensuring the company continues in the absence of the departing owner.
A properly drafted buy-sell agreement takes into consideration exactly what the owners wish to happen if one owner departs, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. Do the owners want to permit a new, unknown partner, should the departing owner wish to sell to an uninvolved third party? What happens if an owner’s spouse is involved in the business and that owner gets a divorce or passes away? How are interests valued when a triggering event occurs?
In crafting your buy-sell agreement, consider the following issues:
- Triggering Events - What events trigger the provisions of the agreement? These normally include death, disability, bankruptcy, divorce, and retirement.
- Business Valuation - How will the value of shares being transferred be determined? Owners may determine the value of shares annually, by agreement, appraisal or formula. The agreement may require that the appraisal be performed by a business valuation expert at the time of the triggering event. Some agreements may also include a “shotgun provision” in which one party proposes a price, giving the other party the obligation to accept or counter with a new offer.
- Funding - How will the departing owner be paid? Many business owners will obtain insurance coverage, including life, disability, or business continuation insurance on the life or disability of the other owners. With respect to life insurance, the agreement may provide that the company redeem the departing owner’s shares (“redemption”). Alternatively, each of the owners may purchase life insurance on the lives of the other owners to provide the liquidity needed to purchase the departing owner’s shares (“cross purchase agreement”). The agreement may also authorize the company to use it’s cash reserves to buy-out the departing owners.