Buying Out a Partner When There Is No Shareholders’ Agreement in Place
Like most relationships, business partnerships frequently experience highs and lows, with periods of both prosperity and turmoil. When ongoing disagreements cannot be resolved, or one partner decides to leave the business, the remaining partner(s) often seeks to buy out the shares of the departing party. If there is no shareholders’ agreement in place, and the partners are in agreement, the dissolution of the partnership can usually be accomplished with the help of a qualified business law attorney and a CPA.
If the business is a corporation, the purchase would likely be structured as a stock sale. In essence, one party would purchase the exiting partner’s shares of stock in the corporation, in exchange for the purchase price. The purchase price could either be paid up front at the closing, or some, or even all, could be paid to him over a period of time. If any of the purchase price is to be paid over a period of time there normally would be a promissory note that the remaining partner(s) would sign documenting that the departing partner is owed the money, and providing for payment terms. These payment terms would include the interest rate, number of payments, and frequency of payments. Typically the remaining partner(s) stock in the company would be pledged as security for the repayment on the note. If the business is not a corporation the steps would be similar but slightly different.
Prior to the dissolution of the partnership, all parties must consider whether the business has any debt. If it does, all partners will need to carefully review the loan documents to make certain that the partner’s departure from the business does not trigger some type of acceleration of the debt. In a small business it is normal for a lender to require the business owners to personally guarantee the debt. So, if this is the case, the business may need to negotiate with the lenders to get the exiting partner released from the debt.
Another item to consider, which should be explored with the guidance of a qualified tax advisor, is whether the partner’s sale of the business to the remaining partner(s) will trigger any taxes. This may be more so from the departing partner’s standpoint but there may be some capital gains taxes that will have to be paid and all parties should get appropriate advice.
Finally, if there is real estate involved that is used by the business, there may be steps that have to be taken to address that. Perhaps the business leases office space from someone else. The business will need to make certain that the change in ownership does not somehow violate the lease and if it does, the partners should seek the landlord’s consent. If the departing partner has personally guaranteed the lease, the remaining partner(s) may need to negotiate with the landlord to release the exiting party.
The bottom line is there are many factors that come into play when dissolving a business partnership. An attorney should be contacted before any decisions are made to ensure all of the necessary details and consequences are considered in the preparation of a purchase agreement.