Got a SME? Get a Will...

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Got a SME? Get a Will & A LPA!

NAPOLEON may or may not have called the English "a nation of shopkeepers" but Britain is increasingly a nation of small businesses.

There were a record five and a half million private sector enterprises operational last year — up two million since the Millennium. And more than 99per cent of them are small or medium-sized (SMEs).

On the plus side, this means as a country we are increasingly encouraging a healthy entrepreneurial streak in our citizens.

Unfortunately there is also a down side — more than half of British small business owners have left no instructions in their Will about their business or made any special arrangements about the shares they hold.

A recent report by Legal & General found that 51per cent of SME owners have neglected to tackle the sticky subject of what happens to their firm and the people who work with and for them if they die.

Why does writing a Will if you are a SME owner matter?

Well, for starters we're not just talking about small-traders like Kush on EastEnders with his one-man market stall or Arthur Daley and his lock-up. SMEs are defined as businesses employing fewer than 250 people and having an annual turnover not exceeding £47million. So quite a lot is at stake here.

For example if you haven't left a plan in place your shares in your company could be tied up in probate for at least ten months; sometimes longer.

If you were the majority shareholder then the business would be effectively paralysed.

It could mean your wife or child becoming involved in the day to day running of the firm, if they are your beneficiaries, regardless of whether they have a clue about how it works or not.

Or it could mean the shares are flogged off to a competitor and your surviving co-directors lose control.

Then there is the growing problem of dementia. Recent changes in the law mean it is now almost impossible to remove a company director who has lost the power to make decisions (defined in law as mental capacity).

Imagine that! Your business could be run by someone as irrational as Phil Mitchell, a bloke who once sold his controlling share in the Queen Vic to Dan Sullivan for £5 just to spite his mum.

L&G's State of the Nation's SMEs report further found that less than half the 800 companies surveyed had a shareholders' agreement and that one in three had never reviewed their Articles of Association or Partnership Agreement.

More than one third of the SMEs worth over £5million had no share protection insurance, which would allow them to avoid shares being locked down in probate.

A straightforward Shareholder Protection agreement avoids all of that aggravation.

If you own an SME or hold a directorship in a small or medium-sized business it is vital that you make a Will and a Business LPA as quickly as possible, and tell your fellow owners to do the same.

That advice stands for sole traders and people in business partnerships too.
If you don't safeguard the future now, your death could not only damage your co-directors ability to carry on running the firm, it could also put your family's financial well-being at grave risk.

It's a minefield out there.

Garry Bushell, September 2017

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