What are some typical things that go into a buy-sell agreement?
There are several components that will go into a written buy-sell agreement. Part of what goes into the agreement will be dependent on the type of agreement it is. Items such as whether it will be a cross-purchase or an entity agreement, how the company is set up in terms of company structure and tax implications will have an impact as to how the plan is written. Below are some components that will be included in every agreement.
One of the things that go into every buy-sell arrangement is a means of valuation. The valuation method will be what determines the value on which all terms and conditions for a buyout will depend. The valuation model takes care of any disagreements or debate about what one stakeholder or heir of a stakeholder believes the value of one’s stake in a company may be. There will be no debate, the value will be predetermined so that the mechanisms and terms under which the actual buy sell operates will move forward smoothly. Some common valuation models one would find in a buy-sell include an ‘agreed value’ model where the company ownership in conjunction with corporate accountants will come to an agreed upon price. This pricing model would be revisited at times, typically annually, to reset the valuation. An ‘appraisal method’ is a valuation method where an independent valuation specialist would provide a valuation. The written agreement can dictate who would do the work, if there would be more than one person doing the evaluation and set in motion parameters if there were to be disagreements or large discrepancies. Say you had two evaluators pricing the company and each set of numbers were way off from one another. The agreement could stipulate a third valuation be done and an average of the three be the agreed value. A third common model is a ‘formula model’ where the valuation is based on an agreed upon valuation formula such as simple book value or adjusted book value.
Triggers for a buyout are also a standard component that goes into a buy-sell agreement, common triggers include death, disability and retirement. Some secondary triggers that can and should be considered would be an owner quitting the company or a shareholder actually being fired. The triggers set forth will do exactly what it is stated to do, trigger the terms of the buy-sell should any of the stated events in the agreement come to pass.
Obligations on the parties part will be a mandatory component of the agreement. The obligations lay out each parties responsibilities once a trigger is triggered. One such example would be in the case of the death of an owner. Obligations on the part of ownership will typically dictate that a deceased owners share will be purchased back into the company and distributed evenly amongst surviving ownership. Based on valuation models, the value of the deceased owners stake in a company would be paid for and the proceeds distributed to the estate, next of kin, what have you.
Circumstances such as disability or retirement would trigger other contractual functions to occur. Such functions would dictate buyout terms for the exiting owner as well as financing triggers such as disability buy-sell insurance policies. These obligations would be laid out in the written agreement and ultimately redistribute the shares to ongoing ownership. If a shareholder quit the company, or worse yet is fired, this is really where the language of the agreement becomes important. If certain parameters are not discussed or alluded to, it can become a messy divorce.
It’s one thing if someone is leaving the company to go do something else entirely from what the existing company does, but what if the quitting owner is leaving to start their own company as a competitor or leaving for an existing competitors firm? You’d have some serious conflicting issues there. If there is a need to outright fire someone who is a stakeholder? Those are some real fireworks. Too often this can lead to the downfall of a company if processes are not set in place in order to get ahead of such things. Obligations on the part of existing and outgoing owners in these scenarios need to be agreed to in writing beforehand. No crossing the bridge when you get there, no handshake agreement. Do it in writing, do it early.
Tax Implications and Financing
A couple of very important aspects that will be part of the agreement or be part and parcel to making the agreement work properly will be the tax implications and financing. The tax issues will revolve around the structure of the company be it sole prop, S or C-Corp, or LLC. Make sure any agreement and financing method is reviewed by qualified tax consultants to see that no landmines go off should an agreement be triggered. The most common method of funding is through insurance. In cases of death and disability, life and disability insurance policies will tend to be the financing method. Such events will trigger the insurance so as to provide funds to the appropriate entities and complete the buy/sell process. In instances such as retirement or buyout of a stakeholder leaving the company where insurance doesn’t apply, terms are financed through other types of financing mechanisms such as bank loans or installment purchase agreements.
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