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Buy/Sell Deeds explained

WHY HAVE A BUY/SELL DEED?

A Buy/Sell Deed is an agreement between the owners of a company or unit trust that upon the death or permanent disablement of a director or key person associated with a shareholder/unitholder, that shareholder/unitholder must transfer its shares to the remaining shareholders in exchange for payment.

The method of determining the price is agreed and the funding of that payment usually comes from the proceeds of insurance policies to be taken out for those risks by the shareholders/unitholders.

A Buy/Sell Agreement is not a general Shareholders Agreement or Unitholders Agreement so it does not regulate all dealings in relation to the company.

COMMON SCENARIOS A BUY/SELL COULD HELP PREVENT

Consider the following and how it may affect you and your company…

  • A shareholder dies and you as the remaining shareholder inherit an unintended (and potentially non-income producing) business partner such as the deceased shareholder’s spouse (as they receive the deceased’s assets via their Will), with company profits being paid out according to the shareholdings.
  • You have to buy shares from a deceased shareholder’s estate above their value.
  • Your family do not get the best price for your shares in the company.
  • The remaining shareholders don’t have available funds to pay out a deceased shareholder or a shareholder who can no longer contribute to the business due to total and permanent disability.
  • The business either needs to be sold or funds need to be borrowed by the remaining shareholders or the company to make the payments.
  • A key person to the company has died, leaving the company in the position of losing a key source of revenue, client relationships and knowhow, affecting the value of the company and its business and its viability in the future.

CERTAINTY

A Buy/Sell Agreement is designed to bring certainty in relation to the exit from a business as the result of death or permanent disability of a key person – certainty for an ill shareholder, a deceased shareholder’s family, the remaining owners and the company itself. Don’t leave it to chance.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to Buy/Sell Deeds, Shareholders Agreements, any or any commercial dispute or issue, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal concerns or objectives.

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Minimizing risk in your business

Running a business is risky and small businesses can be especially so. Minimizing risk in your business is crucial.

Often, SME owners put their own personal assets on the line, whether to borrow funds from a lender to start up or buy stock or equipment or by signing a guarantee in relation to suppliers and others for the debts of the business.

There are several methods of protecting personal assets from creditors, but it is a process that many don’t follow. Some are quite simple and easy to put in place. They include…

Placing assets in a spouses’ name or in a family trust

In most circumstances, creditors will not be able to make a claim upon assets owned by your spouse or held by a discretionary trust, provided that you are not the trustee. If your spouse is the trustee, then he or she is the person who will usually decide how to divide up the income or capital of a trust (or not to).

Of course, stamp duty and capital gains tax issues must also be considered before acquiring or transferring assets as well as the potential operation of claw back provisions. The loss of the principal place of residence CGT exemption or the land tax issues may be a factor weighing against doing this.

In the end, it is weighing up risk vs benefits and making an informed decision regarding any asset protection measures.

Encumbering assets if you cannot transfer them

An asset that is mortgaged to its value is not attractive to a creditor. The mortgagee in such a case is the only entity that will benefit from the subsequent sale of the asset.

A guarantee form a person without assets is effectively valueless. Often businesses don’t check to see what a guarantor actually owns.

If you seek a guarantee from a director of another business, you could make some inquiries about their credit/financial position before creating an account,

Correctly structuring your business

Sometimes it is not feasible to establish an asset-holding entity and a trading entity (as many small business start-ups are strapped for cash) but it can be a great way to protect the business assets from day to day trading risks. Even getting the type of business structure right from the beginning (sole trader, partnership, company, trust or combination etc) can have a massive impact on your business.

It is possible to establish a company with a single director  and/or single shareholder. The company dealing with third parties, supplies, customers and the like is the entity that may be liable to them, not the shareholders.

The shareholders are only liable to the company for the unpaid amounts (if any) on any issued share capital. This liability is usually a nominal amount such as a dollar. Shareholders have no liability to third parties unless they agree to it, such as by giving a guarantee.

Company directors may have some liability but only in limited circumstances can the corporate veil be lifted. Courts may be prepared to lift the veil in limited circumstances, such as in the case of insolvent trading, fraud or misrepresentation, inappropriate transactions or where public policy requires it.

Charging assets (and properly recording the charge)

Before lending money to your business, a charge should be created in the correct form and that form recorded as against assets such as real property (by way of mortgage recorded at Land and Property Information or another State’s land titles registry) or against non-real estate assets (by way of a Specific or General Security Deed and making a registration on the Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR)) to secure repayment of that money in preference to other creditors should the business fail.

Having proper terms of trade

Most businesses, if they have them at all, have terribly inadequate terms and conditions of trade. Often they are just copied and pasted from other documents and not tailored, leaving businesses thinking they are adequately protected when they really are not covered at all.

T&Cs should be built to protect your particular business and should be a work in progress, tweaked to solve or prevent problems that have arisen in your business from occurring again,

Avoiding personal guarantees altogether

A guarantee is a contract by which a guarantor promises that another person or entity will comply with his, her or its obligations to a third party and if they don’t, the guarantor will. The most common example involves bank loans where a guarantor such as a parent promises to repay the loan of their child if the child defaults.

Becoming a guarantor can be extremely risky, particularly when large liabilities are involved. Under most guarantees, the guarantor becomes immediately and primarily liable to repay the debt (and the lender does not have to wait for attempt to recover from the borrower before calling on the guarantee).

As a practical matter, many businesses cannot obtain finance unless a personal guarantee is provided. If this is the case however, whenever the loan is actually repaid or if the business can prove it is financial stable and secure, the guarantee should be discharged so that the guarantor cannot continue to rely on it at a later date concerning subsequent transactions.

Managing staff

One of the biggest risks to your business is that of staff leaving, and worse still, taking valuable information and assets with them.

Having appropriately drafted Employment Contracts with restraints of trade in them is a must.

Superannuation contributions

In many circumstances, superannuation entitlements can be protected from bankruptcy trustees. There may be no protection for example where the payments are made for the primary purpose of defeating creditors.

Making contributions to super is getting harder and harder with the Federal Government’s recent changes to the superannuation laws however, this can be an effective long term tool for wealth creation and asset protection. This will also usually involve the assistance of your financial planner.

Business succession planning

If you are in business with another person, what happens to your business if you or your business partner gets seriously injured or dies?

Do you have an appropriate and valid Will, Enduring Power of Attorney and Appointment of Enduring Guardians in place?

Usually having these estate planning documents is not enough. Presumably your business partner would give all of his or her assets to their spouse on their death through their Will. What if you don’t want to me in business with your business partner’s partner?

You should have in place business succession documents to deal with this such as a Buy/Sell Deed with appropriate insurances, a Shareholders Agreement (for companies), Unitholders Agreement (for unit trusts) or a Partnership Agreement (for businesses operating through a partnership structure).

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to starting a new business, commercial law, business disputes or estate planning/business succession issues generally, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Setting up a new business

Before starting a new business, the first thing that you need to consider is the structure of the entity to operate the business.

There are numerous options to choose from, such as:

  • sole trader;
  • partnership;
  • company; and
  • unit trust.

This is when it can pay to get good accounting/taxation, financial planning and legal advice as there are advantages and disadvantages associated with each type.

WHICH STRUCTURE IS THE BEST?

There is no right or wrong answer to this necessarily, although some are preferred more than others.

To determine the most appropriate structure, you need to consider what is most important for you and your family and things such as what assets/business you already have interests in, whether you intend to be in business with others or you’ll go it alone, how you intend to run the business and whether it is a long term plan or whether you intend to quickly build and sell it.

Each option has different qualities, including:

  • simplicity vs complexity,
  • asset protection vs personal liability,
  • income going to one individual vs ability to minimise tax through income splitting,
  • taxation issues on sale such as CGT exemptions; and
  • business succession planning issues.

OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER

Once the structure has been determined, and depending on the structure to be adopted, other things that need to be covered off include:

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to starting or buying a business, drafting business documents or any other commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

Legal considerations for starting your online business

Online business is booming. Most consumers now favour online shopping given that it is quick, convenient and usually cheaper than in a retail shop.

Consider the legal considerations and responsibilities of running business online, preferably before you start trading.

THE FORMALITIES & NECESSARY REGISTRATIONS

The first thing that needs to be remembered is that even though you do not have a shopfront, you are still operating a business. As such, there are certain legal requirements that you will need to abide by. In particular, you need to think about:

  • The structure of your business – consider asset protection, taxation issues, income splitting;
  • Registration of your business name and (the all too often overlooked trademarks, social media and URL registration);
  • Obtaining a tax file number, ABN and, if required, registering for GST;
  • Putting in place Terms of Trade, Privacy Policies and the like.
  • Government regulations and any advertising restrictions regarding the products or services that you wish to sell.

Although these considerations may seem daunting at first, it is important that they are given due consideration. Take for instance the choice of business name. Many would consider this the most important decision in the establishment of an online business. When choosing a name, you need to make sure that it does not infringe upon or not too similar to an existing business name or another person’s trademark. Preferably you would do this before spending money on websites, logos and the like!

CONSUMER LAWS

Before embarking into the world of e-commerce, it is important to remember that there have been major legislative changes to the laws regulating business transactions. In particular, you should take note of the Australian Consumer Law which regulates consumer affairs and transactions. Provisions which may be relevant to an online business usually concern the issue of misleading and deceptive conduct, misrepresentation and misdescription of products.

Consider the descriptions that you will be putting up about the products you will be selling and the impact that these may have in the mind of the consumer. If you think that they may create a false assumption, then it is best to re-word them and make it clear exactly what the product or service does.

If you are planning on selling products internationally, then you may also need to take regard of legal requirements of the countries that you are proposing to deliver to.

TERMS OF TRADE

Most online businesses do not sufficiently state the terms of their proposed sale to consumers. The description of the goods is usually there, as is the price and a method of delivery… but that’s about it! What if something goes wrong – what other terms would be useful?

Consider these:

  • Where is the law of the contract?
  • At whose risk are the goods while in transit?Are they insured?
  • What warranties or indemnities (if any) are required?
  • Can the performance of the contract be delegated to a third party?
  • Have you secured supply of key components of your product?
  • Can liability be limited in the contract?
  • What happens if circumstances beyond my control prevent you from fulfilling my contractual obligations?
  • Do you need to protect the intellectual property in any goods sold?
  • How will any disputes be resolved?

Many, if not all, of these matters can be addressed by having appropriately drafted terms of trade. If you haven’t brought all of your terms to the customer’s attention before the contract is entered into, they do not form part of the contract at all.

SECURITY & PRIVACY CONCERNS

On-line systems are at risk of fraud 24/7 and from anywhere in the world. When dealing with sensitive information such as personal contact details and credit card information, it is important that you have appropriate security measures in place. You should aim to:

  • Ensure that all personal details and credit card information is securely stored (and encrypted or not stored at all);
  • Take steps to seek to prevent fraud by using appropriate firewalls and software (as well as third party payment systems);
  • Provide a safe and secure online space.

Remember that by doing these actions, you are not only protecting consumers, but also protecting your and your business.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to estate planning, business succession or any other commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.