It can take decades of blood, sweat and tears to build a successful family business but without proper succession planning in place, things could fall apart almost overnight. Although planning for the end isn’t particularly light-hearted, it is vital for any business and can help owners face the future with confidence, no matter what it may hold.

An example of this was seen in the recent legal battles within the Hinduja family, spanning courts across the world as the family tried to settle which parts of which business went where.

What is succession planning?

Succession planning is ultimately planning for success; to provide clarity and detail around end-of-life wishes and mitigate the risk of disputes as far as possible. Whether that is ensuring that a business is able to continue with the accumulated wealth remaining within the family, or whether the business will be sold on with the financial assets remaining within the family instead, proper succession planning allows owners to choose the path best suited for them. If the plan is for assets to remain within the business it is important to remember that the aim is to reduce the unnecessary depletion of those assets.

Who needs to be involved in succession planning?

As the unexpected can happen at any time, anyone who holds a key position within a business, regardless of its size, should take proactive steps to ensure that operations can carry on if they are incapacitated, or if the worst should happen.

Careful planning could be the difference between a business remaining viable, or failing due to confusion and uncertainty. For example, if only the director is able to deal with contractors, or can sign off invoices, it is important to have a plan in place so that these activities can carry on should circumstances suddenly change. Family business owners need to seriously consider how their businesses could be run if they were to be unexpectedly removed from the picture.

With respect to family businesses both business assets and personal wealth (including savings, properties and financial portfolios) can become closely intertwined and must be looked at as a whole to ensure the best possible outcome. This also helps to reduce the chance of misunderstandings, which in turn could lead to disputes within the family who are left behind.  Disputes are often painful and expensive, and understandably, are something that business owners would want for their family.

Whilst the risk of relations feeling hard done by can never be fully removed, the more structure in place around end-of-life wishes, the better the chance of minimising any disruption. But how is this structure built?

Getting professional help with succession planning

Getting the right professional help can be split into manageable portions. Business owners may already have a trusted solicitor who will be able to advise on these matters, but if that is not the case, other advisors who work closely with solicitors in areas such as this, such as financial advisors or accounts, may be able to provide recommendations.

Particularly with regard to family businesses, it is important to build a trusted team with the expertise to thoroughly examine both business and personal assets to ensure that every asset is going to its intended place.

The creation of a will for a business can take some time (as it can for personal wills), however, with the right help, it can move at a pace that the business owner is comfortable with and can be dictated by necessity.

We’re here to help

Whilst it can be difficult to begin thinking about end-of-life planning, it is vital for family business owners to confront this often taboo topic. Succession planning should be seen as a way to protect the legacy of a business that could have taken a lifetime to build, whilst also ensuring it can remain viable while taking care of the owners’ loved ones.

With a decisive plan, supported by the right professional help, a family business can be successfully handed down the generations for many years to come.

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Heledd has a great deal of experience across a range of future planning and private wealth work, providing expert advice and guidance in respect of wills, powers of attorney and asset protection to both private individuals and business owners.

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