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The Importance of a Buy-Sell Agreements

As a partner or co-owner (private shareholder) of a business, you've spent years building a valuable financial interest in your company. If you thought about setting up a buy-sell agreement to ensure your surviving family a smooth sale of your business interest than consider life insurance.

How to set up different types of buy-sell agreements

In an entity purchased buy-sell agreement, the business itself buys separate life insurance policies on the lives of each of the co-owners. The business usually pays the annual premiums and is the owner and beneficiary of the policies.

In a cross purchase buy-sell agreement, each co-owner buys a life insurance policy on each of the other co-owners. Each co-owner usually pays the annual premiums on the policies they own and are the beneficiaries of the policies. If your company has a large number of co-owners, multiple policies must be purchased by each co-owner.

A wait and see (or hybrid) buy-sell agreement allows you to combine features from both the entity purchase and cross purchase models. The business can buy policies on each co-owner, the individual co-owners can buy policies on each other, or a mixture of both methods can be used.

The buy-sell agreement should be fully funded

The amount of insurance coverage on your life should equal the value of your ownership interest. Then, when you die, there will be enough cash from the policy proceeds to pay your family or estate in full for your share of the business. But, if all that is affordable is insurance coverage for a portion of your interest, you might want to go ahead and fund that amount. Later, the company may be able to increase the amount of insurance or use additional funding methods. In the meantime, the agreement should specify how your family or estate will be paid.

The value of the business could change

What if the insurance proceeds turn out to be less than the value of your business interest, due to growth in the business? Your surviving family members might end up getting less than full value for your business interest. Your buy-sell agreement should specify how the valuation difference will be handled.

Conversely, the insurance proceeds might be greater than the value of your business interest when you die. Your buy-sell agreement should address this potential situation upfront and specify whether the excess funds will belong to the business, the surviving co-owners, or your family or estate.

Keeping track of your buy-sell agreement

Each year, the premiums on the policies must be paid, or the insurance will lapse. So monitor premium payments carefully. Your buy-sell agreement should include a feature requiring ongoing proof of payment. Also, review the amount of insurance regularly. The insurance coverage may have to be increased periodically to reflect increases in the value of the business. If additional insurance is not possible, another funding method should be established.