partnership

Properly executing documents

When it comes to properly executing documents, depending on the type of document and the parties executing it, there are different requirements for it to be valid.

The manner of execution depends on matters such as:

  • Party – whether a party is an individual, a partnership, the Government, an association or a corporation (and whether those signatories are parties in their own right or as a trustee of a trust or a superannuation fund;
  • Document – whether it is a Deed or just a contract or an Agreement; and
  • Physical/Electronic – whether it to be signed online or in person, or a combination of both.

PARTY TYPE

Individuals

An individual may execute a document by simply signing it with their signature witnessed by a person who is not party to it.

Partnerships

For a partnership to be bound by a document or a deed, either all partners to the partnership or an individual authorised by all the partners (whether or not the individual is a partner) should execute the document or deed.

Often, documents will be executed by a partner on behalf of a partnership. This authority may be set out in the partnership deed or a power of attorney. If you cannot obtain a copy of the relevant authority, you should consider obtaining a warranty from the individual in the relevant execution clause that they have authority of the partnership to so execute the document.

Companies

Section 127 of the Corporations Act (Corporations Act) sets out the ways in which a document may be executed by a company. If a company executes a document in this way, anyone will be able to rely on the protection in other sections of the Corporations Act for dealings in relation to that company. A company may execute documents under seal or choose not to have a company seal and even if the company has a seal, it need not apply it.

A company may execute a document with or without a seal if the document is signed by:

  • 2 directors; or
  • a director and a company secretary o; or
  • a sole director (there is no requirement for a private company to have a secretary).

Companies can also sign via an agent under s.126 of the Corporations Act.

Associations

Usually an incorporated association signs documents by having 2 committee members sign it but often the Rules of Association need to be examined to confirm this.

An unincorporated association is not a legal entity and so cannot contract in its own right so be careful entering into any contract of value with them.

Trusts

A trust is not a legal entity and as such, it cannot contract in its own right so all acts relating to a trust must be undertaken by its trustee or trustees.

The type execution clause that should be used will depend on what type of entity the trustee is (eg a company  or one or more individuals) execution clause should be used if the trustee is a company).

Although a trust is not a legal entity, it may be a tax entity so may have its own ABN. You should therefore confirm that the ABN being used is the ABN of the trust and not the ABN of the trustee. An ABN is a great identifier.

If you are unable to confirm that the trustee has the power to enter into the arrangement (which can usually be ascertained by examining the trust deed), you should consider obtaining a representation and warranty from the trustee that it has the power to execute the document or deed on behalf of the trust.

DOCUMENT TYPE

There are various reasons for choosing between the different types of document. such as greater (often double the length) limitation periods for enforcing obligations in deeds compared to just agreements. Sometimes legislation requires transactions by deed, but oftentimes deeds are used as they are the most solemn act a person can perform in relation to an item of property or any other right.

Agreement / Contract

Generally, a contract is in place and is valid if the following conditions are met:

  1. Intention to create legal relations
  2. An offer
  3. Consideration (price) being agreed
  4. Acceptance

A written signature is not necessarily required for a valid contract to exist. The terms of the agreement also can be agreed verbally.

Contracts can be signed electronically (even with the click of a mouse) since the Electronic Transactions Act 2000 (NSW) (ET Act) and corresponding legislation in Australia’s other States and Territories.

Deed

Traditionally, to be a valid, as a deed the document had to be “signed, sealed and delivered” and thus it had to be:

  • written (on paper or parchment);
  • signed and the parties’ seal/s applied); and
  • delivered (physically to the other party),

however now, there is no requirement for a seal (where it is described as a deed or expresses that is is ‘sealed’ and it is witnessed appropriately), the parties are presumed to have ‘delivered‘ it on execution and the parchment requirement has also been dispensed with given the ET Act, amendments to the Conveyancing Act 1919 (NSW) and, in relation to companies, the passing of the  Corporations Amendment (Meetings and Documents) Act 2022, which from 01 April 2022 (after the temporary COVID-19 pandemic measures ended on 30 March 2022), amended the Corporations Act to permanently allow things such as:

  • director or member meetings virtually, such as through Zoom or Teams meetings etc (regardless of the requirements under their constitutions); and
  • documents, including deeds, to be executed electronically.

As Deeds do not require consideration like a contract, often it can be sensible to include a nominal item (such as $10) as consideration just in case the document isn’t valid as a deed – as it can still be relied on as a contract, possibly even if not signed by the other party but part performed.

WET INK OR ELECTRONIC?

Documents now can either be signed:

  • in physical form with ‘wet ink‘ signatures;
  • electronically; or
  • a combination of both.

Either way, the method of signing must clearly and reliably identify the part and indicates the party’s intention in respect of the information recorded in the document.

Obviously, special care needs to be taken with parties that are not Australian residents and to consider the governing law and jurisdiction of the arrangement.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information, please contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@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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Bringing on business partners?

For businesses that are growing and putting on other shareholders and directors, a Shareholders Agreement is a must have. If your business is not a company but it a partnership or a unit trust structure, the document would be a Partnership Deed or Unitholders Agreement.

Don’t leave some of the most important and fundamental issues for your business to chance. Consider a company with 2 or 3 shareholders – a typical small to medium sized business scenario…

COMMON PROBLEMS FOR SHAREHOLDERS

Issues that commonly that can affect shareholders include:

  • A shareholder sells their shares, leaving you with an unintended business partner;
  • A shareholder dies and you inherit an unintended business partner or you have to buy the shares from their estate for more than you ought to;
  • As a shareholder, you want out but cannot find a suitable purchaser but the other shareholders won’t buy you out;
  • The shareholders don’t have available funds to pay out an exiting shareholder;
  • The majority shareholder wishes to run the business one way, but is restricted by a minority shareholder;
  • You, as a minority shareholder, are being treated poorly by other shareholders who are running the business with little regard to your interests;
  • You wish to sell the company’s business as there is an excellent offer on the table, but another shareholder will not and is jeopardizing the sale;
  • You wish to receive dividends from the business, but others want to reinvest the profits.

The aim of a Shareholder Agreement is to bring some certainty to the business relationship so there is confidence in how the business will operate

TAILORED SOLUTIONS

A Shareholder Agreement tailors the rights and obligations of the shareholders to fit the particular purposes of the company, the nature of its business and the aims and wishes of its shareholders – to help avoid some of the potential problems identified above.

Some factors that should be considered in a Shareholders Agreement include:

  • The company’s activities/type of business – its purpose;
  • The roles and obligations of the shareholders;
  • Who are the directors and how the shareholders can change them;
  • Director remuneration;
  • Who will manage and control the business day to day, such as a managing director;
  • Meetings – how they are called, how they are run, counting of votes;
  • How decisions are made by shareholders or the board of directors;
  • What types of decisions require a simple majority, special resolution or a unanimous vote;
  • Payment of dividends;
  • Funding/borrowing;
  • Restrictions on the issue/transfer of shares and calculating the share price;
  • How shareholders can exit from the company and on what terms;
  • Funding of exits (including death) – buy/sell obligations and personal insurances;
  • Restraints on existing shareholders as to company customers etc;
  • Insurances to be taken out; and
  • How any disputes are to be resolved.

The aim of a Shareholders Agreement is to bring some certainty to the business relationship so that shareholders can have some confidence as to how the company will be run and, if there is a falling out, to provide a mechanism for that falling out to be dealt with, as painlessly as possible.

Ideally, the Shareholders Agreement would be in place from the outset whilst all parties are in agreement in relation to all issues however, they can be documented at any time (provided all parties agree).

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.

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

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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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