February 2011 Archives

An Incomplete or Improperly Formed Corporation or Limited Liability Company Can Hurt Your Silicon Valley Business in Several Ways, Part III: IRS Problems, Securities Problems, Shareholder Disputes

February 28, 2011,

In Parts I and II of this Article I talked about how important a complete and properly formed business entity is for estate planning and liability protection. There are also many other potential impacts of not having your corporation or LLC documentation in order. Here are just a few:

IRS Problems: Just over five years ago I got a call from a licensed contractor in Campbell who was being audited by the IRS and needed to present his corporate minute book to the auditor in five days time. His company had not done minutes of the shareholders or the board of directors for the previous six years. It took us much more time to go back and recreate the corporate minutes and ended up costing my client at least twice what it would have if we had prepared the minutes each year when the information was fresh. However, it was necessary to document certain shareholder loans which would not have been upheld by the IRS if they weren't properly authorized by the corporation.

Securities: Many new business owners do not understand that an ownership interest in a corporation or a manager-managed limited liability company is considered a security and may require federal and/or state securities filings. Failure to make these required filings may result in shareholders having rescission rights whereby they can demand their investment back from the company, and any person controlling the entity could have personal liability to return those funds.

Debt v. Equity, Ownership and Control: I have worked with a Santa Clara consulting company for many years. Over the years the corporation went from being wholly owned by family to being owned by third parties as well. Unfortunately, it has been very hard for the family shareholders to adjust from the casual way they used to run the corporation. For years they added capital to the corporation without taking additional shares and without making it clear whether the additional capital was debt or equity. Now that third parties are involved, it is necessary to document every dollar that is put into the corporation and to determine whether that capital contribution results in additional shares which could impact control.

Shareholder Disputes: Every so often I get a call from small business owners asking me what their rights are to continue the business without their partner's consent. Usually I tell them that the answer lies in their ownership interests, their control of the board of directors, and their rights under their partner or shareholder buy-sell agreement. Failing to complete the entity formation means they are subject to the default rules of the California Corporations Code, which could be a lot different than what they intended, and may result in the termination of the business. I hate to see goodwill wasted like this. See Part IV of this Article for how a buy-sell agreement can help avoid this situation.

An Incomplete or Improperly Formed Corporation or Limited Liability Company Can Hurt Your Silicon Valley Business in Several Ways, Part II: Liability Protection

February 21, 2011,

Filing your Articles of Incorporation or Articles of Organization with the Secretary of State is only the first step in creating your corporation or LLC. Unfortunately, most online business formation services take your money and don't do much more than that for you. And many do-it-yourselfers don't perform the required tasks unless they are somehow notified that additional filings or documents are needed to complete the formation of their entity. Even some business owners that have an attorney form their company correctly initially often fail to keep up the required formalities. The problem with stopping at filing your Articles, or even your initial formation documents, is that if you do not treat the corporation or LLC properly, then the courts can do what is called "piercing the corporate veil" and look through the company to the business owners for liabilities of the business.

Some of the basic formalities required in order for the courts to maintain the liability shield of a corporation include:

• Holding annual meetings of the shareholders and the board of directors.
• Maintaining the corporate minute book, including organizational minutes, corporate resolutions authorizing or ratifying major decisions, and minutes of annual shareholders and board meetings.
• Issuing and canceling stock certificates as appropriate and maintaining an accurate stock ledger.

For both corporations and limited liability companies, requirements include:

• Having bylaws for a corporation or an operating agreement for an LLC.
• Not commingling funds with personal funds or funds of another entity, including maintaining separate bank accounts, paying company expenses out of the company only, and not running individual expenses through the company.
• Making required Secretary of State filings.
• Filing federal and state business tax returns.
• Making required federal and state securities filings

Continue reading "An Incomplete or Improperly Formed Corporation or Limited Liability Company Can Hurt Your Silicon Valley Business in Several Ways, Part II: Liability Protection" »

Merger and Acquisition Deal Structure - Sale of Assets

February 14, 2011,

Because acquisition transactions in Silicon Valley move very quickly, it is a good idea to understand the basics of deal structure. Every approach contains trade-offs among a number of different factors, including ease of closing, tax impact, risk preferences, third party involvement, and regulatory issues. This post examines the asset purchase structure.

Asset purchase agreements are used when the buyer does not want to assume any liabilities of the seller, except for those specifically outlined in the agreement (and those from which applicable law does not permit the buyer to escape). This structure is typically used for small owner-operator businesses, such as restaurants, retail establishments, and small service or manufacturing businesses. It can also be used where actual, or a fear of, residual liabilities exist, such as with businesses performing hazardous operations.

In addition to their liability-limiting feature, asset purchase transactions can provide tax benefits to the buyer. For example, some of the assets purchased in the transaction can be depreciated over time.

The tax impact may of the transaction, however, require attention and negotiation. Assets which are not intended for resale may be subject to sales tax. Although the seller is liable for any sales tax in California, parties often negotiate and apportion this liability in sale documentation. Because different types of assets and obligations create different tax obligations, parties are required to agree to an allocation of the assets purchased to particular classes and report the allocations to the taxing authorities.

Special tasks face buyers purchasing a restaurant or a company which principally sells merchandise from stock. In these cases, a buyer, in cooperation with the seller, will make a "bulk sales" notice. If the buyer fails to do so, the buyer may be liable for claims of the purchased company, even if the buyer merely purchased the company's assets.

Assets can be purchased with cash or stock. If stock is used, securities laws must be complied with, which can increase expense and time to close a sale. If a mixture of cash and stock is used, tax impacts might arise in corporate transactions depending on the relative proportion of each component.

Asset transactions create administrative burdens. All assets must be listed and accounted for. This often requires taking a physical inventory and making adjustments if the inventory predates the closing. If the business has valuable contracts, the contracts need to be reviewed to determine if they can be assigned to the buyer. If not, the other party to the contract may need to consent to the assignment, a potentially time consuming and frustrating process.

Because only assets are being purchased, employees of the purchased business may have to be terminated. Any employees with accrued vacation will have to be paid that vacation. The buyer will then have the option to hire those employees back, or bring in its own employees. For companies with a large number of employees which expect to close facilities after the acquisition, federal and California law may require advance notification to affected employees.

Asset deals provide the best liability limitation for buyers. However, their complexity may render them unwieldy for larger transactions and their use should be explored prior to committing to any sale.

Continue reading "Merger and Acquisition Deal Structure - Sale of Assets " »

An Incomplete or Improperly Formed Corporation or Limited Liability Company Can Hurt Your Silicon Valley Business in Several Ways, Part I: Estate Planning

February 7, 2011,

I recently met with a new client from San Jose whose father was dying. My client's father owned a small business and was a director and officer of that company. There were two immediate issues for us to deal with. First, the corporate minute book was a mess and we needed to clean up the stock certificates and minutes of the board and shareholder meetings quickly to make sure they actually said what my client's dad intended. Second, we needed to re-title several assets that were supposed to be in the corporation but were not currently titled that way, including some real property in Campbell.

Why is the minute book important? In this case, the share certificates were inconsistent and did not agree with the Articles of Incorporation or the stock ledger. This could result in a shareholder dispute as to ownership of the company and voting control. Also, there were no minutes for the last five years. Without minutes of the shareholders and the board of directors, the corporation was risking its liability shield. [See Part II of this Article for more about Liability Protection.]

Why is the title of the assets important? Assets owned by the corporation should be in the name of the corporation and not held personally by a shareholder. In this case, assets were in dad's name but he had always treated them as owned by the corporation. So, if dad died and left the corporation to his son, he was intending those assets go with it. But, those key assets of the company would not be included in an inheritance that leaves the corporation to the son and the other assets to other beneficiaries. In addition, property that is not titled in the name of the corporation might not carry the liability protection of the corporation in case of a lawsuit. [See Part II for more about Liability Protection.]

Although dealing with an impending death of a loved one is difficult, this family was lucky in many ways because they had some warning and a chance to fix things before dad died. Working with them reminded me that having your property not go the way you want it to on your death is just one more potential consequence of not properly completing the formation and funding of your business entity or keeping up with corporate maintenance. Other problems with incomplete or improperly formed corporations and limited liability companies are addressed in Parts II through IV of this Article.