The creation of buy-sell agreements involves a certain amount of future-thinking. The parties must think about what could, might, or will happen and write an agreement that will work for all sides in the event an agreement is triggered at some unknown time in the future. This article addresses the important characteristics of buy-sell agreements that are important for business owners and for attorneys advising them.
Business appraisers retained pursuant to the operation of buy-sell agreements are normally bound to prepare their valuations in accordance with the kind of value described or defined within the agreements. Confusion over an appraiser’s basis of value, either by appraisers or by users of appraisal reports, can lead to the placing of inappropriately high or low values for a buy-sell agreement transaction. Therefore, it is essential that business appraisers and the parties using appraisals are aware of the correct basis (level) of value.
The Single Appraiser, Select Now and Value Now buy-sell agreement valuation process is the one I recommend for most successful closely held and family businesses. I prefer this single appraiser process as the best available alternative for fixed-price, formula, and multiple appraiser agreements.
Promissory notes are used frequently as a funding mechanism when buy-sell agreements are triggered. However, most buy-sell agreements reflect very little thought or negotiation regarding the promissory notes that they contain.
Booth Computers, a New Jersey family partnership was created in 1976, and in 1978, a related partnership, HCMJ Realty Ltd. was formed, of which Booth was a limited partner. Interests in Booth were given to James, Michael and Claudia Cohen by their father, Robert. A 2011 case tells the story of how the Cohen children obtained their interests, and how Booth and at least one related partnership of which Booth was a limited partner, acquired substantial assets.
Most business owners do not have a current understanding of the details and potential pitfalls that lurk within their own buy-sell agreements. Most view these agreements as obligatory legal documents that can be forgotten about until needed. Unfortunately, when a buy-sell agreement is needed it is too late to fix any problems within the agreement.
Process buy-sell agreements are buy-sell agreements involving the use of one or more business appraisers in processes specified for determining value. Mercer Capital professionals have been involved in many valuation processes for determining price (valuations) for buy-sell agreements.
Many buy-sell agreement templates call for an appraisal process to resolve the price (i.e., the valuation) for transactions under companies’ agreements upon the occurrence of specified trigger events. We call such agreements process agreements. Quite often, the descriptions of the valuation processes are quite short.
The best time to think about what happens if the business or the relationship between the business owners doesn’t work out is when the business is being formed and business owners are happy.
Several other issues related to valuation should appropriately be addressed in your buy-sell agreements. The following discussion is by no means exhaustive, but includes items that are helpful in minimizing problems or uncertainties with the operation of process buy-sell agreements.
The interests of shareholders (or former shareholders) and corporations (and remaining shareholders) often diverge when buy-sell agreements are triggered.
Many buy-sell agreements are funded, in whole or in part, by life insurance on the lives of individual shareholders, who may be key managers, as well. Life insurance is a tidy solution for funding when it is available and affordable. It is important, however, to think through the implications of life insurance from a valuation perspective whether you are a valuation expert, a business owner or both.
Buy-sell agreements exist in many, if not most, closely held businesses having substantial size and/or value. And they exist between corporate joint venture partners in many thousands of enterprises.