The quintessential retirement isn’t for everyone. Rather than swing on a porch or hike the Himalayas, some business owners just want to work. It’s the only life they know—a point of pride having worked so hard, for so long, and becoming so entrenched, that their work now requires every ounce of their energy for as long as they shall live.
It hit me when I received this email from a fellow business owner:
“Current plan is to just drop dead on my keyboard. Managers already have instructions to throw the corpse into a dumpster, pour in a couple of gallons of isopropyl alcohol, light a match and send me off with the corporate equivalent of a Viking funeral.”
First of all, yikes.
Second, we can turn the sarcasm into success. There is glory in a burning ship at sea with the body and belongings of the honorable inside. You can replicate the lore of a Norse burial—really, I mean it—for your business, if that’s what you want. But you have to read this first.
If Your Plan Is to Die at Your Desk…
At least leave some helpful instructions in the drawer. For your family. For your employees. For your business. Every business owner makes an exit one way or another, whether expected or unexpected. Planning for an expected exit is the easy part. It’s the latter that gets uncomfortable. Yes, I’m alluding to death, a fact of life.
Set up a Trust
When a loved one dies, the surviving family members must manage the grief, loss, arrangements and affairs all at once. You won’t be there to help them with the grief and loss, but you can plan most of the arrangements and affairs while you’re here, alive and well. A living trust puts all of your assets, including your shares in your business, into a legal entity, with instructions for how to distribute the assets to the beneficiaries named in the trust.
A burning ship is noble. A dumpster fire is not. Make time in your busy life to create a living trust so that your family is not left with a legal mess.
Who will run your business when you are gone? If you don’t want to leave that responsibility to your spouse or family members, look to your management team. Or, you can designate someone outside of your family and outside of your company. Just like your business must have emergency plans for earthquakes, fires and other disasters, consider a succession plan essential as well.
File It Away
This isn’t going to be fun. It might even be painful and upsetting if you have been putting it off. No one wants to plan for death, but as a business owner, it’s common courtesy. It’s your legacy. It’s leadership and compassion for the people you love. The significance of planning the exit is why I started Exit Consulting Group.
Go through the exercise, make thoughtful decisions, and print the documents. Then, put them on the shelf and get back to work. Remember to revisit your living trust and succession plan every 5-10 years as you keep carving your Viking legend.
By John Ovrom, President & CEO, Exit Consulting Group