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 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.
I want to become an entrepreneur and start a business. Should I incorporate now, or start as a sole proprietorship and delay incorporation to a later date?
The advisability of incorporation is dependent on the particular facts and personal preferences of the entrepreneur. The role of the Lawyer and other professional advisors is to help draw out the relevant facts and explore personal preferences to assist the entrepreneur in making the decision that is right for her. Some of the relevant factors include:
Risk. Is the proposed business inherently risky? The shield of limited liability that an incorporated entity provides to the entrepreneur is an important benefit (note that the shield from liability is not absolute);
Tax. A valuable attribute of an incorporated entity is the relatively low tax rate (approx. 16%) payable on the first $500,000 of net income. This allows a profitable incorporated entity to grow much quicker using internally generated working capital than a similarly sole proprietorship where a marginal tax rate in excess of 50% of profits may be payable. An exception is where the sole proprietor has other sources of income and it is anticipated that the new business will suffer losses in the start-up year(s) – it may be possible to set off the losses against the other income and thus reduce the overall tax burden;
Costs. Incorporation of the business at an early stage is less expensive than incorporation once the business is up and running. Once the business (sole proprietorship) is up and running it is generally necessary to use a “rollover” transaction to transfer the business from the sole proprietorship to the corporation.
Separate Existence. An incorporated entity has a legal existence separate and apart from the entrepreneur. This provides for a number of real and perceived benefits including (generally): broader alternatives for raising capital; easier salability of the business and possible availability of lifetime capital gains exemption to avoid tax on sale, continuous existence past the life of the entrepreneur, public perception of greater substance, and easier separation of personal and business dealings.
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.