I am negotiating to purchase a business and my business advisor has strongly suggested I structure the deal as an “asset purchase”. Why is this preferable?
There are two principal ways to structure the agreement of purchase and sale of a business: as an asset purchase or as a share purchase. An asset purchase is just that, a purchase of listed assets without taking on liabilities of the business. A share purchase, by contrast, is the purchase of the shares of the corporation that carries on the business and owns the assets. There are a number of considerations as to which form of purchase is preferable. In this article, we want to focus on why your advisor has strongly recommended an asset purchase.
A properly structured asset purchase agreement will allow you to purchase all of the desirable assets of the business you wish to acquire while leaving out the unwanted liabilities. Your advisor has likely identified the business as one (by its nature or by the disclosure you’ve obtained) in which there are significant potential liabilities that may be avoided through an asset purchase agreement. For example, if the owner of the business has been pocketing cash payments or using corporate assets for personal use, the business may be exposed to reassessments and penalties by the Canada Revenue Agency. A purchase of shares would mean that you, through the purchased corporation, are exposed those claims.
There are some exceptions to the avoidance of liability by an asset purchase. For instance, if the purchased business employed unionized labour, a collective agreement and any ongoing liabilities thereunder will follow the purchased business, even if structured as an asset purchase. Your legal counsel can assist you to identify and understand the relevant risks and how to avoid them where possible or otherwise obtain protection.
I am considering the acquisition of a business. Long term contracts between the business and third parties are important to the business. Do such contracts affect the decision to acquire shares or assets of the business?
There are a number of factors to be taken into account when purchasing an existing business including tax, liability, due diligence and employee matters. Your question relates to the contracts between the business and third parties. These contracts may include rights obtained by the business necessary to carry on the business, such as licenses or franchises, or the benefit of sale or service agreements for the supply of products or services that generate revenue for the business.
A fundamental difference between an asset purchase and a share purchase is that in an asset sale the contracts must be assigned (along with the transfer of assets) while in a share sale the contracts remain intact (since only the shares of the business itself are transferred).A comprehensive review of all important contracts is advisable as early as possible during the due diligence process to determine rights and obligations. If third party consents are required, consideration must be given as to the risk that such consents may not be available in a timely manner, or at all, and whether the transaction may be better structured to avoid the necessity for assignment. In some less common circumstances there is an outright bar to assignment and consents cannot be obtained (this is the case in some government procurements). The acquisition of the business in such circumstances may only be achieved through a share sale to avoid termination of such contract(s). It should also be noted that some contracts contain provisions that deem a change of control from a sale of shares to be equivalent to assignment, and triggering the necessity for third party consent.
I have a corporation the shares of which are held only by me and members of my immediate family. Do I really need to have annual minutes?
If your corporation is audited by the CRA and matters, such as the declaration of dividends, have not been formally documented by a written resolution of the directors or in annual minutes, the consequence can be severe. There are other risks that may be avoided by having minutes prepared annually. This is analogous to your dentist who encourages you to have good dental hygiene and periodic check-ups so that small problems do not become big problems. Practicing good corporate hygiene just makes good sense.
The minimum legal obligation of a corporation is to hold an annual meeting of shareholders to consider the financial statements, elect directors and to appoint (or dispense with the appointment of) the auditor. In practice, and as permitted by statute, narrowly held corporations often dispense with an annual meeting in favor of signed resolution of all of the shareholders. The failure to hold annual resolutions, or obtain written resolutions in lieu, can lead to legal action from disgruntled shareholders.
The practice of holding annual meetings (or resolutions in lieu) also tends to ensure that corporate matters requiring attention are addressed, such as share transfers, changes to directors, and address changes, which if left unaddressed could become significant problems.
An effective method of ensuring good “corporate hygiene” is for the corporation to instruct its accounting advisors to provide legal counsel with an annual letter of instructions to document applicable financial matters.
It is not uncommon that a new client brings us a minute book that has not been properly organized, or that has not been updated for many years. It is not a cause for embarrassment. We strongly encourage that the minute books be updated before an issue arises, such as a CRA audit.
I run a small business and I have several small contracts that I am currently in the process of negotiating. Are these worth bringing to a Lawyer for review?
Depending on the type of contract, there are a number of areas a Lawyer’s expertise can provide guidance, including contracts relating to employment or contractor relationships, borrowing and secured transactions, equipment leases, and other commercial agreements. Simply because a document is short, this does not mean there aren’t important clauses or terms that require careful consideration.
Contracts often contain important clauses relating to the limitation of liability, indemnification, and the waiver of important legal rights. Such clauses can have legal and financial implications for you or your business down the road. Understanding these implications is crucial and one of the services a Lawyer can provide.
A Lawyer can meet with you for a short consultation in order to review your contractual document and answer any questions you might have. By communicating to the Lawyer your expectations of the proposed contract, a Lawyer can work with you to achieve your goals as well as highlight and help you understand risks and liabilities that you or your business may be taking on as part of the contract.
If you have some questions about a contract and feel you may benefit from meeting with a Lawyer call and ask to set up a meeting.