Tips for a smooth succession in family business

Succession planning is a critical process for family-owned businesses. It ensures a smooth transition of ownership and leadership, protects the future of the business, and minimises disruption for stakeholders.

Every family business is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all succession plan. The choice of transition options depends on the specific goals and circumstances of the business.

Following our previous blog regarding the guide to family business succession planning process. Let’s explore some common transition options:

  1. Transfer ownership to a family member(s): This option involves passing ownership and leadership responsibilities to one or more family members who are interested and capable of running the business.
  2. Enter a buy-sell agreement: A buy-sell agreement determines the terms and conditions under which ownership interests can be bought or sold. This option provides a structured mechanism for the transfer of ownership.
  3. Sale of shares via promissory notes: This option involves selling shares over time, with payment made through bonuses or after-tax distributions. It allows for a gradual transition of ownership.
  4. Gift shares: An owner may choose to gift shares to family members, facilitating a smooth transfer of ownership and leadership.
  5. Create a trust as a shareholder: Establishing a trust can provide a structured framework for the transfer of ownership and management responsibilities.
  6. Management buyouts: This option involves selling the business to the existing management team. It ensures continuity and stability within the organization.
  7. Sale to employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) or cooperative: Selling the business to employees through an ESOP or cooperative allows for employee ownership and participation in the business’s success.
  8. Sale to a third party: If there are no suitable successors within the family, selling the business to a third party may be the best option. This can provide liquidity and ensure a fair value for the business.
  9. Liquidation: In some cases, liquidation may be the most appropriate option, especially if there is no viable successor or buyer.

Legal considerations in succession planning for family businesses

Succession planning involves various legal considerations, and seeking professional advice is essential. Here are a few examples of legal issues that may arise:

  • Buy-sell agreements: In the event of a sudden exit of one owner, the buy-sell agreement should outline the process for the remaining owners to purchase the departing owner’s share before a public sale.
  • Management buyouts: Contracts for management buyouts should address compensation levels and ensure the good intentions of the buying managers.
  • ESOPs: Establishing an ESOP requires the assistance of consultants and legal professionals. It is essential to have access to a trustee who can make fiduciary decisions in adherence to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requirements.

To ensure the legal and financial soundness of the succession plan, it is crucial to consult with attorneys and accountants who specialise in business succession planning.

Tips for a smooth succession in family business

Smoothly transitioning ownership and leadership in a family business requires careful planning and effective communication. Here are some tips to facilitate a successful succession:

  1. Master your succession plan options: Understand the weight and implications of each succession plan option available to you. This knowledge will help you make informed decisions that align with your goals.
  2. Anticipate concerns: Put yourself in the shoes of your chosen successors and consider their concerns. Addressing concerns related to family dynamics, employee opinions, customer satisfaction, and information transfer will help create a more secure and stable transition.
  3. Engage with the next generation: Have open, honest conversations with the next generation of leaders. Listen to their thoughts and opinions on the best succession plan for the business. Their input is valuable, as they will be the ones leading the family business in the future.
  4. Embrace hard conversations: Accept that difficult conversations may arise during the succession planning process. Change is challenging, but clear and honest communication can pave the way for a smoother transition.


By following a structured planning process, addressing challenges, exploring transition options, and seeking professional advice, family businesses can create a sustainable succession plan that preserves their legacy and sets them up for continued success. Embracing succession planning is not only the right thing to do but also a smart business decision that secures the future of the family business.

Want to know more about how succession planning could assist you with your transition and life goals? Speak with our trusted KMT advisers in preparation for this step.

About our adviser: Michael Fox has been dedicated to the success of his clients, devising comprehensive wealth strategies for both personal and business growth for over 30 years. With extensive expertise in business governance and family business succession, Michael specialises in empowering emerging businesses and family enterprises by fostering renewal, enhancing value and smooth transitions to the next generation. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need assistance with your business succession planning for your family business.

Learn more about the Benefits of our Succession Planning service.

This is general advice only and does not take into account your financial circumstances, needs and objectives. The article should not be relied upon as specific information or advice without obtaining appropriate professional advice after a detailed examination of your particular situation from a qualified KMT adviser.