What happens to your business when you die?

As a business owner, it is crucial to consider the financial implications for your business beyond your lifetime. Understanding what happens to your business when you pass away is essential for effective financial planning before and during operation to ensure a smooth transition.


There are several ways our clients run their businesses, and each structure has a different outcome for estate planning. The more common business structures are:

  1. Sole Proprietorship:

A sole proprietorship is the simplest and most common form of business ownership. It involves an individual operating a business as an individual without any separate legal entity. The owner retains complete control and is personally liable for the business’s debts and obligations.

In a sole proprietorship, the business and personal assets and loans of the owner are considered as one. Consequently, estate planning for a sole proprietorship typically focuses on ensuring a smooth transfer of the business upon the owner’s death.

  1. Partnership:

A partnership involves two or more individuals (partners) who agree to run a business together. Partnerships can be either general partnerships, where all partners have equal rights and responsibilities, or limited partnerships, where there are both general partners and limited partners. In a partnership, the partners share profits, losses, and liabilities based on the partnership agreement.

Partnerships involve multiple individuals operating a business together. Estate planning for partnerships revolves around ensuring a smooth transition of ownership and management in the event of a partner’s death. The partnership may have a Partnership Agreement to consider succession planning, such as buy-sell agreements, the purchase of the deceased partner’s share, or the addition of new partners. These agreements guide the transfer of ownership and decision-making rights.

Upon a partner’s death, their share of the partnership assets becomes part of their estate. Estate planning focuses on how the deceased partner’s interest will be distributed, either to family members or other partners.

  1. Company:

A company is a separate legal entity distinct from its owners (shareholders). It provides limited liability protection, meaning that shareholders are generally not personally liable for the company’s debts. Companies are regulated by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and require formal registration. They have a more complex structure and involve directors and shareholders who have specific roles and responsibilities.

Companies exist as separate legal entities, providing limited liability to shareholders. Estate planning for companies involves addressing the transfer of ownership and management, ensuring business continuity. Considerations for companies will include Shareholder Agreements that outline the process for transferring shares in the event of a shareholder’s death. This may involve the right of first refusal by existing shareholders or the appointment of new shareholders.

Estate planning considers the appointment of new directors to ensure the continued operation of the company. It also involves decisions regarding the management of the business and potential changes in ownership structure.

When a company is owned by a trust, estate planning takes on added complexity. The trustee holds the shares on behalf of the trust beneficiaries so a successor trustee is vital to ensure the continuity of the ownership.

Planning the future of your business in South Australia requires careful financial considerations. By assessing your business structure, engaging in effective estate planning, and seeking professional financial advice, you can secure the financial stability and longevity of your business even after your passing. Start planning today to safeguard your business’s financial future.

Financial Planner AFP® | M.FF

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