Professional Corporations for California Doctors

May 23, 2011,

I was recently working with some doctors who co-owned their Sunnyvale medical office building. They were concerned about the liability of having the property in their own names, so we worked with their lender and transferred the property into an LLC. Then, I suggested forming a professional corporation to operate their medical practice. Although doctors cannot avoid personal liability for their own malpractice, the corporation will limit their vicarious liability for the acts of their professional partners.

The California Professional Corporations Act allows licensed professionals in the fields of law, medicine, dentistry and accountancy to conduct business in a corporation, through the licensed individual shareholders. The Articles of Incorporation must include special language about the professional corporation. In addition to registering with the California Secretary of State, the corporation must also follow the naming and registration rules of the professional agency. The shareholders must be licensed, and transfers may only be to other shareholders or back to the corporation.

If a shareholder dies, the shares must be transferred within six months. If a shareholder is no longer qualified to practice medicine, the shares must be transferred within 90 days. For these reasons, I always recommend a shareholder buy-sell agreement to give the corporation or the remaining shareholders time to pay for the shares so it does not create financial difficulties for the company. Ideally, the corporation will also obtain life insurance on the professionals to fund a cash buy-out of a deceased shareholder's shares.

My clients were concerned because they had heard that professional corporations were taxed at a high flat rate. I explained that they were correct in understanding that professional corporations are taxed at a flat 35% tax rate on all of the income. However, taxable income can be avoided for the professional corporation by either paying out all of the gain in salaries, or by electing S corporation ("S-corp") status. I also recommended they put special language in their agreements with patients to avoid being subject to the personal holding company rules.

Based on my advice and joint consultation with their accountant, the doctors now hold their medical office building in their limited liability company, and are operating as a professional corporation. In addition to their malpractice insurance, these planning measures took away a lot of their liability concerns.

Tax Break for Investors in Qualified Small Business Stock

May 16, 2011,

I was talking to a client in Cupertino this week about helping his friend with a start-up business in San Jose. Originally, my client wanted to form a corporation online by himself, but he was not sure if the company should be an S corporation ("S-corp") or a C corporation ("C-corp"). He was only thinking about the pass-through implications of an S corporation and the "double taxation" of a C corporation, but was unaware of the small business stock tax exclusion in C corporations and the potential benefit to investors.

I explained that as an incentive to investors to make long term investments in small businesses, for investments made after September 27, 2010 but before January 1, 2012, 100% of the capital gain from qualified small business stock held for more than five years will not be taxed. The amount of gain excluded is the greater of $10 million or ten times the taxpayer's basis in the stock (usually the amount paid for the shares).

To qualify for this incentive, there is a list of rules. The taxpayer must acquire the stock upon its original issuance for cash, property or services. The corporation must be a C corporation with a maximum of $50 million in assets, including the investment. It must not be a regulated investment company, real estate investment trust, real estate mortgage investment trust or other type of entity with special taxation, must not own investments or real estate with a value exceeding 10% of its total assets, must not own portfolio stock or securities with a value exceeding 10% of net assets, and must use at least 80% of the value of its total assets in the active conduct of a trade or business. The corporation's trade or business cannot include professional services, banking, insurance, financing, leasing or the hotel or restaurant business.

Because this start-up company qualified for the small business stock exclusion, and the client was hoping to grow the company with investment from third parties, he decided a C corporation was the right choice. Also, because he realized how much he did not know about forming a new corporation, he asked me to do the formation for him. Once it is formed we will talk about the best way for him to get his promised share of the company.

Merger and Acquisition Letters of Intent - Don't Hold Me To It

May 9, 2011,

Any Silicon Valley mergers and acquisitions lawyer helping clients buy and sell high technology companies is invariably provided with a simple letter of intent, happily signed by a couple of companies without input from their tax and legal advisors, and asked to prepare binding documents. In one case, my San Jose business client was not too worried about the lack of detail in the letter because, after all, it was just a "letter of intent". She was less than happy when I told her that she had actually signed a binding agreement, particularly since very little due diligence had been performed on the target company and a number of 'minor' issues that were important to her still required resolution.

A letter of intent (also called "LOI", or memorandum of understanding, or "MOU") is usually a short letter that outlines the basic business terms of a deal. Without language expressly stating that the letter is nonbinding, and that no obligations arise except under a definitive agreement, however, that letter you signed may be a legally binding contract. Even with this kind of language, a letter of intent can morph into a binding contract IF the parties conduct themselves as if the target company has been acquired. Announcing a deal (when not otherwise legally required), combining operations before a closing, and similar actions, can create a contract from conduct. With no definitive agreement signed, the letter of intent may be used as evidence to set the terms of the deal.

Why do you want an LOI to be nonbinding? Letters of intent are usually prepared and signed after the initial business proposition and marketing analysis have been performed. They are typically signed before the acquirer has a chance to really investigate the target. This is because neither party will want to conduct an expensive diligence investigation until each is sure they have a deal. If the letter of intent is binding, then the acquiring company may find itself purchasing a lot of problems of which it wasn't aware when it signed the letter of intent.

Even in a nonbinding letter of intent, there are a number of provisions which should bind the parties. In my next blog, I'll discuss the importance of having binding terms in a nonbinding letter of intent.

Owners of Single Member LLCs Doing Business in California Must Also Be Registered in California

May 2, 2011,

I was recently asked by a Cupertino real estate investor whether he should form his limited liability company in Nevada or some other state in order to avoid California taxes. I had to tell him that if anything, this would just increase his overall costs and taxes.

California franchise taxes can be much higher than taxes in other states, and include a minimum tax of $800 per year. As a result, companies often do not want to be classified as doing business in California. One way to avoid this classification used to be to form your entity in another state, and not register it in California. Some of my clients have numerous Delaware LLCs or Nevada LLCs. Often, those LLCs own other LLCs, which own property in California. In order to avoid the California minimum franchise tax for multiple entities, they just register the entity that actually owns the property in California.

However, a new ruling says that if the entity is doing business in California, owns property in California, or is managed by people in California, this exemption is no longer available at the parent LLC level.

The California Franchise Tax Board just issued FTB Legal Ruling 2011-01, stating that activities of a disregarded entity will be attributed to the entity's sole owner. A disregarded entity is a single member LLC or a Qualified Subchapter S subsidiary ("QSub") which is disregarded for income tax purposes so that its income passes through to its parent for tax reporting purposes. Therefore, if the disregarded entity is doing business in California, the 100% owner will be considered to be doing business in California and, if it is an entity, will have to register with the Secretary of State in California. This is true even if that owner entity has no other activities in the state, other than owning the disregarded entity.

This ruling is in addition to a previous California Franchise Tax Board ruling that an entity will be considered to be doing business in California if its managing person(s) are in California, even if all of its other activities are out of state.

For real estate investors, lenders often require a special purpose entity ("SPE") to hold the property, which is structured as a single member Delaware LLC. Under these new Franchise Tax Board rulings, the single member LLC holding the property must be registered in California, and its 100% owner parent company must be registered in California as well. The bad news is that both entities are required to pay the $800 minimum franchise tax to California. However, the LLC gross receipts tax is not incurred twice on income that flows through from one LLC to another.

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Convertible Notes

April 25, 2011,

Bridge financing for Silicon Valley start-up companies is a fairly standard, relatively inexpensive method to raising money pending a larger investment round. This type of financing is typically provided in the form of debt that converts into shares issued in the next funding round, often at a discount from the per share purchase price.

Recently, the simple convertible bridge loan has changed to provide substantial tax incentives to investors. For any qualified small business stock, or QSBS, purchased before December 31, 2011, the recently enacted 2010 Tax Relief Act allows 100% of the gain recognized from the stock to be excluded from taxable income.

Although a convertible loan will not qualify as QSBS, the stock that a start-up company issues normally will. Bridge loan investors have a great incentive to purchase stock in exchange for their bridge funds instead of a convertible note. Designing stock that has many of the same attributes as convertible debt has provided some additional complexities to what was formerly a plain vanilla transaction.

Because debt is not being issued, the investor will have no right to return of its funds, barring securities violations. Most bridge loan investors, however, provide funds on the expectation of ultimately holding stock. As a result, the lack of a repayment feature is not a concern. If it is, a redemption feature could be designed, but it is unlikely the Company would be able to legally redeem the stock if it couldn't otherwise raise money.

The key advantage to a convertible note, that value need not be negotiated, is eliminated because stock is issued. This creates the need to negotiate a valuation, which adds time to the transaction. This can be solved, in a sense, by requiring the stock to convert into stock issued in the next round if the next round is expected to close soon. If this approach is used, a separate and forced conversion rate must be established to make sure the bridge stock converts into the next round.

As a result of the above items, and the need to issue stock, a new series of stock will need to be created. This requires charter documents to be amended and corresponding board and stockholder approval to be secured.

Price-based antidilution adjustments may be triggered. If so, capitalization estimates have to take account of corresponding changes in the conversion rate of the applicable series of preferred stock.

Tax benefits will come at some cost in the deal due to more complex documentation and expense. The structure, however, may provide just the right push to close that extra funding.

Are You A Real Estate Professional?

April 18, 2011,

Over many years of working with real estate investors, one question has come up over and over again: "Can I qualify as a real estate professional so I can deduct my passive losses against my ordinary income?" The last time was from a San Jose full-time professional who has rental property in Sunnyvale. I almost always have to disappoint my clients with the answer that they do not qualify. Several times I have had my Silicon Valley clients and their advisors disagree with me, despite explaining the rules to them. Many of them go on to report it the way they want to, and take the risk.

The United States Tax Court just answered the same old question again. In Yusufu Yerodin Anyika et ux. (TC Memo. 2011-69, March 24, 2011), the taxpayers were a married couple that had been buying, renovating, managing and selling rental real estate for years. He worked 37.5 hours per week, 48 weeks per year as an engineer and she worked 24 hours per week as a nurse. During 2005 and 2006 they had two rental properties, which Mr. Anyika considered to be his second job as well as their investment property. They filed their tax returns themselves with TurboTax, claimed he worked 800 hours per year managing the real estate, and deducted their rental real estate losses. The Tax Court held that for them to be able to deduct their rental real estate losses he must have worked more than 750 hours and over half of his working hours on their real estate investments. Mr. Anyika then re-estimated his real estate hours to be 1920, just over the 1800 he spent in his day job. Unfortunately for Mr. Anyika, the Tax Court did not believe his new, unsubstantiated re-estimate and held that he did not qualify as a real estate professional. The Tax Court did hold that Mr. Anyika qualified for a $25,000 deduction for materially participating in real estate, but this deduction was not available to him because his adjusted gross income was too high.

Something to note, which was not an issue in the Anyika case, is that the rules are even worse for short term rentals. Time spent on properties with average rental periods of seven days or less does not count towards the 750 hour test, and losses on those properties are also ineligible for the $25,000 deduction for actively managed real estate. (Source: Kiplinger Tax Letter, March 18, 2011, Vol. 86, No. 6)

So - if you think you should qualify as a real estate professional, create a log of every hour you work on the real estate and, at the end of the year, compare those hours to the hours you work in your regular job. If the real estate hours exceed 750 hours and also exceed the hours you worked in your regular job and you can prove it, you qualify as a real estate professional. If they do not, try for the material participation test to get the $25,000 deduction (unless your income is too high). And no matter what you choose to do... don't blame TurboTax. The Tax Court has heard that one before.

Save Me! Purchasing the Financially Troubled Company - Part 2

April 11, 2011,

Acquiring a financially troubled company, whether in San Jose, Palo Alto, or New York often requires consideration of the bankruptcy process. If the seller is already in bankruptcy, the buyer must convince the bankruptcy court that it represents the best source of funds to repay existing creditors. If the bankrupt company has attractive technology, there may be other buyers, and the court will typically award that company to the buyer who will pay the most money.

If the seller is not yet in bankruptcy, the parties may decide to purchase the company through a bankruptcy proceeding. If planned properly, the bankruptcy process can provide the buyer with a number of advantages. First, the seller's assets are purchased free of any liens or other claims (although courts continue to wrestle with allowing subsequent successor liability claims). Second, because the assets are purchased "as-is," sale documentation is typically shorter than for sales outside of bankruptcy, and stockholder approval is not required.

Planning for purchasing a company through a bankruptcy involves entering into arrangements with the selling company's creditors and other stakeholders before the bankruptcy filing. As part of these arrangements, a reorganization plan and acquisition agreement may be prepared and agreed to prior to the filing. Once the appropriate pieces are in place, the seller will file for bankruptcy and include the pre-agreed reorganization plan in its bankruptcy documentation. The sale can be completed in a few months barring no other suitors or other unforeseen impediments. Bankruptcy counsel is necessary for both parties to properly shepherd the transaction through the proceedings, and corporate counsel is critical to insure that documentation is accurate and necessary corporate formalities are followed.

Financially troubled companies often provide the opportunity for others to purchase businesses at a relatively lower cost. Reaping the advantages successfully requires balancing the needs of all the business's stakeholders.

Continue reading "Save Me! Purchasing the Financially Troubled Company - Part 2" »

Save Me! Purchasing the Financially Troubled Company - Part 1

April 4, 2011,

Technology start-up companies in Silicon Valley exist in a highly dynamic environment, where survival can be crushed by competition from a kid in a garage or a fund partner refusing further investment. As a last gasp, some companies may try to be acquired. Companies which have had to take refuge from their creditors may be able to sell their business through bankruptcy proceedings.

When compared to a standard sale of a business, sales of financially troubled companies require the professional advisors to manage a number of different stakeholders to successfully close a transaction. More so than in standard transactions, professional advisors play an important role in helping a transaction proceed smoothly. Under certain circumstances, their fees may be paid by the buyer or the bankrupt estate.

Most acquisitions of financially troubled companies are structured as an asset purchase. This prevents the acquirer from having to automatically assume liabilities that it doesn't want. The existing creditors are then left with satisfying their claims out of the proceeds from the sale. Most companies, however, need the products or services of its creditor vendors to survive. In the case of technology companies, these vendors often include technology and hardware suppliers who are core to the company's business. Irritated suppliers may not want to deal with the company even after its acquisition. Creditors and stockholders of the company may have claims against the company's board of directors if a company is sold for less than the reasonably equivalent value of its assets. At the same time, key employees of the company, aware of the company's financial stress, may be looking for alternate opportunities. The importance of these stakeholders, and how they are managed as part of the acquisition, is at the heart of any purchase of a financially troubled company.

The first task of any potential buyer is to perform extensive due diligence to determine what employees and suppliers are necessary to the company post-closing, and whether the company's operations can be streamlined sufficiently to enable it to become viable. For the seller, the key task is to maintain those relationships of most value to the company. This may require creating cash retention bonuses for key employees.

The second task is to document a letter of intent and definitive agreement rapidly so that the company remains viable. Preliminary negotiations can be challenging, because, among other things, the buyer will need access to the seller's vendors to determine if payment accommodations can be made. In exchange for the time the buyer requires for vendor discussions, the seller may insist that the buyer funds the company's operations, particularly its payroll, until closing.

The third task is to close the transaction quickly so that valuable employees and vendor relationships are not lost. This can be difficult given that contracts for many of the seller's key relationships will need to be assigned, and the consent of the other contracting party may be required.

In my next blog, I'll discuss how the bankruptcy process is used in acquiring a financially troubled company.

California is Focusing on Cancellation of Debt Income

March 28, 2011,

Over the last two years I have often been asked to answer the question of what the consequences will be if a client walks away from a property, letting the bank take it back. The previous decade of incredible real estate appreciation resulted in many people without previous real estate investment experience becoming real estate investors. The most common situation I see is the condo owner who had enough income to keep his condo as a rental and still buy himself a single family residence. Then the recession hit and both properties are now underwater. Now, he thinks he can walk away from the property thanks to the Mortgage Debt Relief Act. Unfortunately, that Act was put into place to help people who were losing their homes, not to help people with investment properties. Even more unfortunate is that a lot of these beginner real estate investors thought that they could handle their taxes themselves without an accountant.

California is now focusing on finding those people and making them pay tax on the cancellation of debt income they should have recognized on giving up their underwater investment property to the bank. According to Spidell's California Taxletter, (March 1, 2011, Volume 33.3), California is mailing letters for tax years 2007 and 2008 to taxpayers who had debt relief on properties that were reported on Schedule E and therefore, probably do not qualify for the principal residence exclusion. The letter calculates the potential additional tax owed as well as a 20% accuracy related penalty and interest on the unreported income.

If it is too late and you have already been given notice of an audit on cancellation of debt income, there are still some other exclusions that you may qualify for, such as business and farm indebtedness. If you are thinking of giving an investment property back to the bank, be sure to bring in a good accountant to analyze the tax situation for you first.

An Incomplete or Improperly Formed Corporation or Limited Liability Company Can Hurt Your Silicon Valley Business in Several Ways, Part IV: Shareholder/Partner Buy-Sell Agreements

March 21, 2011,

Just like estate planning is so important for those we leave behind when we die, a good shareholder or partnership agreement is crucial for the well-being of a business after a traumatic event for one of the owners. Death, disability, retirement, bankruptcy, insolvency, divorce, and even a partnership disagreement can be traumatic events for a company to endure, and could result in the end of a business if they are not planned for in advance. Planning includes deciding whether the company or the other owners have an optional right or a mandatory requirement to purchase the interest of the subject owner, at what price, and on what terms.

Any business with more than one owner needs a good shareholder, LLC or partnership agreement. It is equally as important for family owned businesses. For years, I worked with a real estate investment family business in Saratoga. When the father died after years of working together with his adult children, the LLC agreements we put in place were absolutely critical to keep the management control in the one child who was capable of running the business. In this case, the agreements put in place the succession plan which enabled the business to go on after the death of the majority owner.

A good shareholder or partnership agreement should consider what restrictive covenants the owners want to impose, including restrictions on sale and rights of first refusal. Agreements for companies involving sweat equity should deal with the amount of time, effort and capital (if any) required of each owner, and the vote required to remove someone from the company. Companies that are considering a sale as an exit strategy should consider rights to force the minority owners to go along with the majority owners on a sale, and rights of the minority owners to force the majority owners to include them in any sale.

The value of the company should be decided in advance of an event, and should be reviewed regularly. A formula or a method for valuation should be clear in the buy-sell agreement. And if the death or disability of one owner could materially impact the value of the company, the owners should consider funding the buy-sell agreement with life insurance and disability insurance. The future of the company is dependent on the agreements the business owners put into place now. Failure to have a buy-sell agreement could be a fatal mistake.

Continue reading "An Incomplete or Improperly Formed Corporation or Limited Liability Company Can Hurt Your Silicon Valley Business in Several Ways, Part IV: Shareholder/Partner Buy-Sell Agreements" »

Merger and Acquisition Deal Structure - Stock Purchase, Part II

March 14, 2011,

In my last segment, I mentioned a recent deal involving a Northern California company structured as a stock sale. Having tax advisors assist at the early stages helped keep the transaction on track. The next major issue was allocating the risk of business liabilities between the buyer and the seller.

Like any stock purchase transaction, liabilities of the seller stay with the business. This is often a significant disincentive to the buyer, because it must hold an entity that cannot escape its past liabilities. Two mechanisms are commonly used to alleviate the buyer's risk.

First, a working capital cushion may be created to provide a source of funds to pay the ongoing debts of the business. The amount of the cushion is agreed in the purchase documentation. A portion of the purchase price is then held back at the closing in an escrow. The amount of net assets as of the closing is determined through a post closing audit, and the held back amounts are distributed following the audit to the buyer or seller depending on any difference between the agreed amount and the amount determined under audit.

Second, the seller may cover the buyer for any damages arising out of the inaccuracy of any of the seller's representations made in the acquisition agreement. These provisions, typically structured as an indemnification, are very heavily negotiated and can be quite complex. Issues covered in these provisions include the extent of the liability relative to the purchase price received, the length of time the seller is exposed to the liability, and the responsibility for defending any resulting litigation.

There are other risks associated with stock transactions which are not an issue in asset acquisitions. For example, securities regulations may be a concern. Because an ownership interest is a security, any transfer of the ownership interest will raise securities law issues. Where the buyer is owned by an individual or individuals active in the business, and the buyer is financially substantial and sophisticated, the securities issues are minimal. If there are a large number of shareholders not otherwise involved in the business, and the buyer is not otherwise financially substantial and sophisticated, compliance issues may arise that will add time and expense to the transaction.

An acquisition structured as a stock sale is relatively easy to close administratively, but is more difficult to negotiate because of the liabilities that remain with the business.

Merger and Acquisition Deal Structure - Stock Purchase, Part I

March 7, 2011,

In a recent acquisition that I handled for a company in Santa Cruz, the buyer decided to purchase, with cash, the stock of the company rather than its assets. Acquisitions through stock or equity purchases are a common method of buying a company. From an administrative standpoint, equity purchase acquisitions are one of the easiest deal structures to implement.

In an equity purchase acquisition, a company is bought by purchasing all of the ownership interests of that company. If the company is a corporation, a buyer purchases all of the company's shares of stock from the company's stockholders. If the company is a limited liability company or partnership, a buyer purchases all the ownership interests of the company from its members, in the case of a limited liability company, or its partners, in the case of a partnership. This discussion will focus on a stock purchase, although the basic issues outlined here are the same when dealing with a limited liability company or partnership.

The administrative benefit of a stock purchase transaction is that ownership changes simply by transferring all of the company's shares. Contrast this with an asset purchase structure, where each desk, chair and personal computer must be accounted for and sold to the buyer.

A significant advantage to a stock purchase is that there may be no need for assignments of the contracts of the business (although case law can be inconsistent on this point). Contracts should be reviewed, however, as many prohibit stock transfers, or changes in control, of the business.

Stock purchase transactions, however, can have disparate tax impacts on the buyer and seller. As a result, both the buyer and the seller will need to consult their respective tax advisor early and often to understand the consequences of a stock purchase structure and the specific terms within the transaction. Parties that agree to terms without consulting their tax advisor are often faced with the need to renegotiate their transaction under less than optimal circumstances.

One of the top issues in a stock purchase is the treatment of the company's liabilities. Although purchasing the stock keeps the assets of the business intact, it also retains all of its liabilities. In other words, a stock purchase does not rid the business of its obligations. For this reason, a buyer is not disposed toward purchasing stock, because the buyer ends up with an entity that cannot escape its past liabilities.

In my next segment, I'll discuss some of the available solutions commonly used in a stock purchase transaction to provide sufficient comfort to a buyer to close the deal.

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 " »