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What Is a Buy-Sell Agreement?

Business partners review a buy-sell agreement

Owning a business with someone else — whether it's a family member, friend or professional colleague — can become complicated if one of the owners dies or must leave the business. If plans aren't made well in advance, this situation can lead to a number of challenges. This is where buy-sell agreements may come into play.

But, what is a buy-sell agreement, and how do buy-sell agreements work?

Uncovering the Benefits of Buy-Sell Agreements for Your Business

Simply put, buy-sell agreements — also known as buyout agreements — are binding contracts between co-owners of a business that spell out what will happen should one of the owners die, become disabled, retire, or leave the business. Understanding how these contracts work can help you decide if this type of agreement is right for your business.

What Is the Purpose of a Buy-Sell Agreement?

A buy-sell agreement can help business owners maintain control over who can partner with them in the future, and it can help to mitigate the possibility of bad feelings added to already difficult circumstances.

It can also help to minimize disruptions to the business during a major transition in ownership.

Avoiding Unwanted Circumstances with a Buy-Sell Agreement

Imagine losing a business partner and finding yourself co-owning with someone you find disagreeable, inexperienced or poor at making decisions. What if your business partner wants to leave the business and demands more money than you think the company is worth? How about seeing part of the business transferred to family members who want to take the profits without doing any of the work?

A Buy-Sell Agreement for Various Business Partnerships and Ownerships

These agreements can help minimize the possibility of these and other unwanted circumstances, or they can help establish the rules for when they occur. Buy-sell agreements may be used in businesses such as restaurants, medical practices, family farms, start-ups and just about any partnership or business that's directly run by the owners.

How Do Buy-Sell Agreements Work?

A buy-sell agreement could specify who may purchase a departing co-owner's shares of a business and what must happen to trigger such a purchase. It could require partners to buy out the departing co-owner in certain circumstances or allow partners the option to do so before anyone else.

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The Details of a Buy-Sell Agreement: What to Include in the Contract

Generally, the contract will spell out the terms of a sale, such as how to determine the purchase price and any limitations on who may purchase part of the company.

1. Determining the Purchase Price and Limitations on Sales

This could also include something known as a right of first refusal. For example, the agreement might say company shares could be sold to outsiders only after family members decline to buy. Or, it could include a right of first offer, requiring a co-owner to give the business partners the option of buying the co-owner's share of the company before selling to an outsider.

2. Provisions for Family Members and Other Triggers

Co-owners may choose to include other provisions, such as whether a co-owner's family may receive the ownership interest if the co-owner dies. In addition, it can spell out circumstances in which a co-owner must sell back company shares, such as if the co-owner is convicted of a serious crime. This could also involve other triggering events, such as divorce or bankruptcy.

Why Might a Buy-Sell Agreement Be a Good Idea?

Foreseeing possible business complications and charting how to navigate them can make for smoother operation and help to increase the probability that the business will succeed over the long term.

It is important to revisit and update a buy and sell agreement periodically to ensure it works for the current business.

The Bottom Line

If you're contemplating starting or already have a business with someone else, you might consider consulting a financial representative about creating a buy-sell agreement.

Save, Invest, Grow Your Wealth!

Save, Invest, Grow Your Wealth!

Take control of your financial future by budgeting, saving, and investing wisely.

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Information provided is general and educational in nature, and all products or services discussed may not be provided by Western & Southern Financial Group or its member companies (“the Company”). The information is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal or tax advice. The Company does not provide legal or tax advice. Laws of a specific state or laws relevant to a particular situation may affect the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of this information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. The Company makes no warranties with regard to the information or results obtained by its use. The Company disclaims any liability arising out of your use of, or reliance on, the information. Consult an attorney or tax advisor regarding your specific legal or tax situation.