Two weeks ago, we saw an epic season finale for one of the most popular television shows this season. The show, Empire, delivers one of the most fascinating storylines we’ve seen in quite some time. The talent is extraordinary and the plots – well, let’s just say the writers deserve Emmys. But as estate planning lawyers, many of us watched intently as we learned the mogul, Lucious Lyon (played by Terrence Howard), was diagnosed with ALS. Suddenly, the Empire record label was going to change forever and Lyon was unsure what that change would look like after he was gone.
He had three sons, each with promise, but all with their own conflicts with their father. Who would he pass the family business to? And what about his ex-wife, Cookie, played by Taraji P. Henson? She wasn’t one to exactly bite her tongue. While everything works out, to some degree, there’s still a lot to learn about the estate planning elements in the storyline – and as we mentioned, that’s where the true fascination is for estate planning lawyers.
This week, we explore succession planning and what it means for the family business.
Often, an estate planning model used to pass a family business to a spouse, children or grandchildren, includes a number of “cure alls”, such as a foundation that will provide a tax efficient method for holding on the family wealth. Wills and trusts come into play as well. The only problem with any estate planning is the human element. We saw that in remarkably honest glory through the Empire freshman season.
Who will carry the torch after the elder Lyon is no longer here? Like many family business owners, especially those first generation businesses, it can be challenging separating the business from the human soul that defines it. Many put off this type of planning not because they’re irresponsible, but simply because it doesn’t occur to them right away. Not covering that base can have catastrophic repercussions.
Succession planning takes time. Unlike Lyon, who wasn’t always honest with his family, it’s important to put into place honest communication avenues. When there are more than a few heirs, it can be tempting to let it all work out after we’re gone, but that might not always be the best solution, especially considering the “family” part of the “family owned business”. When there’s no clarity, it can tear a family apart. Your estate planning lawyer can be a powerful advocate as you go about the business of putting into place those important estate planning elements that will provide for a smoother family business transition.
One of the more complicated elements in Empire is the matriarch’s return from prison. She gave her husband $400,000 to start his business. Unfortunately, she sold drugs to get the cash and then spent 17 years in jail. When she was set free, she soon learned her now ex-husband wasn’t exactly looking out for the best interests of the woman who gave him three sons and the cash to start the business. Remember that there are always steps you can take to protect your investments (provided it’s honest money) – but you have to memorialize it through proper legal channels.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the plot unfolds in season 2, but for now, fans are still reveling in the fine acting and explosive season finale. If we can help you with your succession planning, we invite you to contact our offices today. The team at Unsworth Law stands ready to provide guidance and sound legal advice – even if you don’t have an ex-wife named Cookie.
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