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

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.

In addition to having a good shareholder or partner buy-sell agreement in place, there are many other recommended actions that corporations or LLCs should take with regards to planning for the future of the business. Structure Law Group attorneys are available to assist you to make sure your business is properly formed and your business and personal interests are protected.