Many small businesses are highly dependent on the presence of a key employee or small group of employees for the ongoing operation of the business. It may be an owner, partner or some other important person. You may want to consider protecting your business against the untimely death of that employee or small group of employees with some type of life insurance policy. In fact, some lenders may require such an arrangement.
Here are some questions to help determine whether you may need that type of protection:
If answering those questions raises red flags, you may want to consider buying some life insurance on that key employee to have funds available to help run the company until a replacement is found or another resolution is determined. The best policy could be relatively inexpensive term life insurance. The business would be the policy owner and beneficiary and would pay the premiums. If your key person dies, the company receives the death benefits and can then decide on a future course of action.
Buy/sell agreements control what happens to an ownership interest in the event of the death or disability of one of the major owners of the business. They can be structured so that on the death of an owner, the business or the remaining owners buy back the ownership interest. In most cases, buy/sell agreements include some valuation guidelines for the business.
Many companies use life insurance as a means to fund these types of agreements. For instance, if the business is valued at $3 million and one owner has a one-third stake in the business, the business may buy a $1 million term life policy. The proceeds could be used to buy the deceased owner's shares in the event of his death. Another option would be for each owner to buy policies on the lives of the other owners. There are some special tax rules that apply to corporate ownership of life insurance policies. If you are considering this type of arrangement, be sure to seek qualified legal advice.