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Ian Belousov
Ian Belousov

What Is A Buy Sell Agreement



A Buy-Sell Agreement is a legally binding contract that lays out the parameters under which shares in a business can be bought or sold. A Buy-Sell agreement is an attempt to avoid potential chaos should one of the partners in an organization want or need to exit the business.




what is a buy sell agreement



If you do not have a Buy-Sell agreement in place under any of the preceding circumstances, then your business could be subject to a partition by sale. This means that a court may order the dismantling and selling off components of the business in order to provide the financial value that a new owner is entitled to. Alternatively, a court could decide to grant ownership to a new person under one of the aforementioned circumstances, which would grant that new person the same decision-making ability as the existing partners.


What happens if an owner dies and a beneficiary inherits their portion of the business? What if an owner divorces and an ex-spouse is awarded part of the business? What if a person dies and their executor needs to sell their portion of the business to cover debts? Will the other owners have the first option to purchase? If an owner is going to declare bankruptcy, how much notice do they need to give?


As a partner or co-owner (private shareholder) of a business, you've spent years building a valuable financial interest in your company. You may have considered setting up a buy-sell agreement to ensure your surviving family a smooth sale of your business interest and are looking into funding methods. One of the first methods you should consider is life insurance. The life insurance that funds your buy-sell agreement will create a sum of money at your death that will be used to pay your family or your estate the full value of your ownership interest.


How Funding With Life Insurance WorksWhen using life insurance with a buy-sell agreement, either the company or the individual co-owners buy life insurance policies on the lives of each co-owner (but not on themselves). If you were to die, the policyowners (the company or co-owners) receive the death benefits from the policies on your life. That money is paid to your surviving family members as payment for your interest in the business. If all goes well, your family gets a sum of cash they can use to help sustain them after your death, and the company has ensured its continuity.


How to Set Up Different Types of Buy-Sell AgreementsIn an entity purchase buy-sell agreement, the business itself buys separate life insurance policies on the lives of each of the co-owners. The business usually pays the annual premiums and is the owner and beneficiary of the policies.


In a cross-purchase buy-sell agreement, each co-owner buys a life insurance policy on each of the other co-owners. Each co-owner usually pays the annual premiums on the policies they own and are the beneficiaries of the policies. If your company has a large number of co-owners, multiple policies must be purchased by each co-owner.


A wait and see (or hybrid) buy-sell agreement allows you to combine features from both the entity purchase and cross purchase models. The business can buy policies on each co-owner, the individual co-owners can buy policies on each other, or a mixture of both methods can be used.


The Buy-Sell Agreement Should be Fully FundedThe amount of insurance coverage on your life should equal the value of your ownership interest. Then, when you die, there will be enough cash from the policy proceeds to pay your family or estate in full for your share of the business. But if all that is affordable is insurance coverage for a portion of your interest, you might want to go ahead and fund that amount. Later, the company may be able to increase the amount of insurance or use additional funding methods. In the meantime, the agreement should specify how your family or estate will be paid.


The Value of the Business Could Change Over TimeWhat if the insurance proceeds turn out to be less than the value of your business interest, due to growth in the business? Your surviving family members might end up getting less than full value for your business interest. Your buy-sell agreement should specify how the valuation difference will be handled.


Conversely, the insurance proceeds might be greater than the value of your business interest when you die. Your buy-sell agreement should address this potential situation upfront and specify whether the excess funds will belong to the business, the surviving co-owners, or your family or estate.


Should Group Life Insurance be Used?Using a company's group life insurance plan to fund a buy-sell agreement is generally not recommended. Normally, group life insurance premiums are tax deductible to the company. But premiums are no longer deductible if the business is the beneficiary.


Keeping Track of Your Buy-Sell AgreementEach year, the premiums on the policies must be paid, or the insurance will lapse. So monitor premium payments carefully. Your buy-sell agreement should include a feature requiring ongoing proof of payment. Also, review the amount of insurance regularly. The insurance coverage may have to be increased periodically to reflect increases in the value of the business. If additional insurance is not possible, another funding method should be established. Finally, periodically check the financial rating of your insurance company. The policies funding your buy-sell agreement will do your family no good if the insurer becomes insolvent.


No. Despite the name, buy-sell agreements have little to do with buying and selling companies. Instead, they are binding contracts between co-owners that control when owners can sell their interest, who can buy an owner's interest, and what price will be paid. These agreements come into play when an owner retires, goes bankrupt, becomes disabled, gets divorced, or dies -- in other words, a buy-sell agreement is a sort of prenuptial agreement between business co-owners. Mainly these agreements guide buyouts between the owners themselves; that's why we like to call them buyout agreements.


To avoid this prospect, a good buyout or buy-sell agreement requires the former spouse of a divorced owner to sell any interest received in a divorce settlement back to the company or the other co-owners, according to a valuation method provided in the agreement.


In the worst case scenario, a bankruptcy trustee could liquidate the business (sell all of its assets) and take half to pay the bankrupt owner's debts. To prevent a business from getting tied up in bankruptcy court, the owners can sign a buy-sell or buyout agreement that requires a co-owner who faces bankruptcy to notify other co-owners before filing. Under the terms of this agreement, this becomes an automatic offer to sell the bankrupt owner's interest back to the other owners. The buyout money goes to the bankruptcy trustee and the business can proceed without difficulties.


You can hire a professional appraiser or use a valuation formula to come up with a price using financial statements from one or more years. But the problem is that valuing a business at the time of sale usually results in co-owners seizing on different valuation formulas, which can produce very different results. For that reason, it helps for the owners to agree on a way to value the company in advance in a buy-sell or buyout agreement. This gives owners the chance to discuss and vote on how a reasonable price for the company should be calculated. The fact that a sound method was agreed to beforehand can go a long way to reducing conflict when the time for a buyout comes.


Requiring an immediate 100% lump-sum cash payout can prevent even the most successful company from buying back an owner's interest. That's why having flexible payment terms built into a buy-sell or buyout agreement, signed in advance, can help. For instance, a buyout agreement can provide for a down payment of 1/4 to 1/3 of the buyout price followed by installment payments for three to five years at a reasonable rate of interest. For more on buyout agreements, see Nolo's Business Buyout Agreements.


Buy-sell, or buyout, agreements have been used successfully to lower estate taxes in intergenerational businesses -- businesses where at least one co-owner plans to leave the interest to heirs who will remain active in the business. This can help a family business owner pass the business on to children or other relatives without burdening them with unnecessary estate taxes caused by an aggressive value of the business. The key for estate planning is choosing a conservative price or valuation formula for the business in the buy-sell or buyout agreement. The result can be to legally set the value of the ownership interest at an amount considerably lower than its sales value at the time of death. 041b061a72


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