Succession Planning for Family-Owned Small Businesses

Succession Planning

Written by Jeff Dvorachek

November 1, 2023

Succession planning is a crucial aspect of family-owned small businesses. Transitioning a business from one generation to the next requires careful consideration, particularly from a tax perspective. In a recent conversation, we delved into the various ways and ideas for family business owners to plan for the next chapter in their legacy. We discussed how to make the process smoother, what to consider in the early stages, and the benefits of involving the next generation early on.

Maintaining the Family Legacy

Many family business owners aspire to keep their enterprises as family-run businesses, ensuring that their legacy endures. However, the process of transitioning from one generation to the next can be challenging, and it often involves substantial financial considerations.

When a business has thrived and become highly profitable under the leadership of the first generation, it can be intimidating for the next generation to contemplate taking over. The question often arises: “How am I going to buy this out now?”

One approach to tackle this issue is for the first generation to use their financial resources, such as investments in their 401(k) or other assets, to facilitate the transition. In such cases, they may not necessarily need to demand full fair market value for the business. This opens the door to various strategies, including combinations of selling and gifting parts of the business to the next generation.

Buy-In Over Time

The concept of a buy-in over time, often referred to as the installment plan method, is a recommended approach. This involves the second generation gradually purchasing shares of the business over an extended period. There are several advantages to this approach:

  1. Equity and Commitment: When the second generation invests their own funds into the business, it gives them a sense of ownership and commitment. They have “skin in the game,” which can foster a deeper connection to the business’s success.
  2. Gradual Transition: A gradual buy-in allows for a smoother transition of leadership and responsibilities. This can be particularly important when the second generation needs time to develop the necessary skills and experience to run the business effectively.
  3. Tax Benefits: From a tax perspective, an installment plan can help mitigate the tax implications associated with a lump-sum transfer of the business. It may also make it easier for the first generation to offer favorable terms to the second generation.

Importance of Early Planning

As the saying goes, “The early bird catches the worm,” and this holds true in succession planning for family-owned businesses. The earlier the planning begins, the better the outcomes are likely to be.

Tax Implications

Any transfer of a business between generations carries tax implications. It’s essential to consult with professionals who can help navigate these complexities. Succession planning experts can assist in structuring the transition to minimize tax burdens and maximize financial benefits.

Cash Flow Planning

In addition to tax considerations, cash flow planning is crucial. Transitioning a business involves financial intricacies that must be managed effectively. Understanding how the financial aspect of the transition will work is essential for both the first and second generations.


Succession planning for family-owned small businesses is a multifaceted process that encompasses both financial and personal considerations. By involving the next generation early on, considering options like a gradual buy-in, and seeking professional guidance to address tax and cash flow issues, family business owners can set the stage for a smooth transition from one generation to the next. The preservation of the family legacy and the continued success of the business are attainable with careful planning and prudent decision-making.

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Jeff Dvorachek
As a partner, I have thorough experience providing tax services to individuals, privately held businesses, nonprofit entities and estates and trusts. I also provide compilation and review services.

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