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

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.