Like many law firms we offer expert advice on areas such as buying and selling businesses or companies, or estate planning and trusts. Unlike most other law firms, our specialist solicitors are aware of the need to ensure this advice is not delivered in isolation from wider personal, commercial and legal concerns.
This is particularly relevant for family businesses. A well drafted shareholders’ agreement providing for the transfer of shares on death may in fact cause, rather than avoid, disputes if the wills of relevant shareholders contain contradictory instructions for executors.
We pride ourselves on being able to offer a holistic approach to working with family businesses. We advise in a way which is both convenient and cost-effective for clients, drawing together different areas of expertise and experience including corporate and tax advice, succession, and an understanding of how to effectively manage family obligations and expectations.
Examples of areas where we regularly assist family businesses include:
We prepare shareholders’ agreements and articles of association to regulate management and ownership arrangements within family businesses, particularly in relation to the transfer of shares and protecting the family business from external ‘threats’ such as death, bankruptcy or divorce or separation of significant shareholders.
As well as providing this advice in the context of trading businesses, we also advise in relation to specific types of companies such as family investment companies (FICs), or corporate restructuring.
We advise the owners of family businesses on traditional succession matters such as how shares and other business assets should pass under wills, and how management can be transitioned to a new generation. This can be particularly relevant if not all family members are involved in the business but it represents the most significant family asset.
We are also able to consider business related estate planning from less standard perspectives, particularly where there are concerns that more junior members of the family may not be particularly engaged with the family business.
Our advice always acknowledges risk issues both at a legal and family level, taking into account how best to plan to avoid potential expensive disputes by considering family dynamics and expectations.
As well as domestic succession issues, we also advise on cross-border succession.
We advise on structuring interests in family businesses and their passing down through the generations to mitigate charges to capital gains tax and inheritance tax in particular. Understanding your business and how it operates is a fundamental part of this process.
Many family businesses, whilst owned wholly or predominantly by family members, will rely on non–family employees. These employees will often include senior management, and possibly directors. We advise on strategies and mechanisms to effectively incentivise those employees without materially prejudicing the family position.
Whether you are a personal representative or a beneficiary, if you have an interest in an estate which includes a stake in a family business we can assist you in dealing with this.
At a technical legal level, the sale of a family business to a third party is not particularly different to any business sale to an independent purchaser. However, our extensive experience of working with family businesses and the dynamics that underpin them informs our approach to these transactions, whether acting for buyer or seller, and allows us to deliver a better client experience.
Unfortunately, sometimes even when care has been taken to effectively document legal relations between family members, disputes can arise in relation to family businesses. We advise on all types of contentious matters in relation to family businesses. We have particular expertise in dealing with disputes following the death of family members where succession or tax issues may arise, or where claims against an estate may affect a family business.