The Importance of Succession Planning for Family-Owned Businesses

Succession Planning for Family-Owned Businesses


Family businesses contribute to over 70% of the nation’s GDP and employ a significant portion of the workforce, making them the backbone of the Australian economy.

Despite this, the long-term success of family-owned businesses is often precarious, with only a fraction of the businesses still operating by the third generation.

To secure the long-term success and prosperity of family-owned businesses, businesses should have a succession plan in place.

For family-owned businesses, the need for a well throughout succession strategy cannot be overstated.

Succession planning is a complex mixture of legal planning, financial planning, family dynamics, leadership development and estate planning.

This article will delve into the intricate world of succession arrangements, offering insights, strategies, and best practices for a seamless transition for family-owned business.

The information is of a general nature only and we recommend obtaining professional advice relevant to your circumstances before taking any course of action.

Succession planning for a family business

Plan Leadership

Succession planning for a family business should begin well in advance, ideally when the founder is still actively involved in the business.

This provides ample time to identify potential successors, assess their capabilities, and plan for contingencies.

The most important first step in succession planning is identifying the next generation of leadership.

Rather than merely selecting family members by “birthright”, it is important to assess their qualifications, skills, and commitment to the business.

Once leaders have been identified, the next step is to develop these individuals so that they are ready to take the helm when the time comes.

Ideally, a structured leadership development program will commence well before the transition to help prepare future leaders for their roles and so they understand the business before they take over.

In fact, before handing over complete control, you may consider a gradual transition.

This could involve allowing the successor to take on specific roles or divisions, ensuring they are prepared for the full leadership role, with the current leader taking a step back in certain areas or in the business as a whole.

Consider Family Council

Open and honest communication is vital for a successful transition in a family-owned business, particularly when considering the family relationships and dynamics involved.

Family members should have the opportunity to voice their expectations, concerns, and aspirations. A family council can facilitate these discussions, allowing for the creation of a shared vision.

During these discussions, it may be wise to agree to a robust governance structure for the business post-transition.

This can include identification of the governing structure such as a board of directors, an advisory board, or a family council. These bodies can help in decision-making, conflict resolution, and long-term planning.

These meetings will also provide an opportunity for future roles and responsibilities to be clearly defined, including which roles will be held by family and any roles that are earmarked for non-family executives.

This is likely to minimise conflicts and ensure that everyone understands their specific contributions to the business generally and during any transition period.

Legal and Financial Aspects

Succession planning in family companies often involves a unique set of challenges that stem from complex family dynamics. Conflicting interests, differing visions, and generational gaps can complicate the process.

Therefore, it is usually advisable to involve a neutral third party, such as a family business consultant, to mediate and guide the process of planning for succession.

In this situation, family businesses should engage consultants, financial advisors and lawyers who specialise in estate and tax planning to minimise the tax burden on the business and family members.

They can provide objective insights and help you navigate complex legal and financial issues.

Family business Wills and Estate Planning

Wills and Estate Planning

A well-structured will is essential for directing the distribution of assets, including a family business. Carefully drafted estate planning documents can help avoid disputes and ensure the business passes into the right hands.

You should give special consideration to the terms of any trusts that hold business assets.

You may consider using your estate planning to develop a comprehensive contingency plan that addresses unexpected events, such as the sudden incapacitation or death of key family members. Insurance and buy-sell agreements can be instrumental in such scenarios.

A buy-and-sell agreement (or buy-sell agreement) is a legally binding contract that stipulates how a partner’s share of a business may be reassigned if that partner dies or otherwise leaves the business.

Most often, the buy-sell agreement stipulates that the available share should be sold to the remaining partners or to the partnership.

Buy-sell agreements often use life insurance policies to fund a potential buyout in the event of a partner’s death.

In the event of a family member wanting to exit the business or unforeseen circumstances, buy-sell agreements can provide a mechanism for the orderly transfer of shares and assets.


The key to long term success for family-owned businesses lies in having a succession plan in place early on, fostering open communication and engaging external experts.

By doing so, family-owned businesses can take solace in the fact that their business is well set to thrive across several generations.

Succession planning is not just about transitioning to the next generation, but rather ensuring that the business is in capable hands in the future to pave the way for continued success and growth.

The information in this article is general in nature and does not constitute professional advice.

Get in touch

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice regarding succession planning for family-owned businesses, please contact us.

1300 149 140 Contact us

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