The new Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act came into force October 17, 2011. All federally incorporated not-for-profit corporations must continue into this new Act by October 17, 2014. Failure to continue the not-for-profit corporation will result in dissolution.
The new Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act makes positive improvements to the not-for-profit sector particularly in the areas of powers, corporate governance and accountability. Under the old regime, a not-for-profit corporation only had the powers expressly granted to it under its Letters Patent. Under the new Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act, a not-for-profit corporation has the powers of a natural person subject only to restrictions in the articles, thus opening opportunities for non-for-profit to engage in activities that might previously have been unable to pursue. Corporate governance has been brought more into line with those applicable to the for-profit sector. Accountability has been made more rational, with greater accountability to members including the right of members to access oppression remedies, and with the mandated requirement for audited financial statements being eliminated for some lower revenue corporations.
The transition by a not-for-profit corporation from the old act to the new Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act is made by a continuance. A continuance is filing of Articles of Continuance, along with the new by-laws with the Director for the Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act. The Articles of Continuance and new by-laws must be approved by the members by special resolution prior to submission. While there is no fee for the continuance, the process is not trivial and requires significant changes to the by-laws. The good news is that in many cases the by-laws may be significantly reduced because the default provisions of the new Act may be relied upon. A clear understanding of the new Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act is required in order to appropriately formulate the new by-laws to preserve the intentions of the members.
We represent the interests of a number of not-for-profit corporations located in Ottawa and elsewhere in the Province of Ontario.
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 either 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 re-assessments and penalties by the Canada Revenue Agency. A purchase of shares would mean that you, through the purchased corporation, are exposed to 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’ve been told I need a Shareholder’s Agreement - do you have a standard agreement I can use” is something we hear with frequency. It reflects an understanding by the client that a Shareholder’s Agreement is a “good thing”, but without an understanding of what that good thing is. Generally the response of legal counsel to this question is that there is no such thing as a “standard” Shareholder’s Agreement, let’s meet and talk. So what is it about Shareholder’s Agreements that are so valuable and why isn’t there a standard form, like a real estate agreement?
At a high level of abstraction, a Shareholder’s Agreement is a document that expresses the expectations of shareholders in respect of a corporation through legal obligations and rights. The task of the Lawyer in preparing the Shareholder’s Agreement is threefold - discerning what the expectations are (and those expectations are often not fully formed) – providing counsel on the legal and tax implication on the various alternatives by which those expectations may be realized - and expressing those expectations in the form of contractual terms that bind the parties.
For example, shareholders in a narrowly held private corporation may have an expectation that on death the shares will be purchased. In the absence of a Shareholder’s Agreement, this expectation may not be realized. There is no statute or common law requiring or obligating a purchase. If the remaining shareholders are unwilling to agree to a purchase, the estate is left with the shares and a tax bill. Nothing of course prevents the parties from negotiating a purchase, but the relative bargaining power may have shifted in unpredictable ways, and planning opportunities, such as insurance funding, may have been missed. A Shareholder’s Agreement that addresses these expectations will reflect the parties prior expectations for fairness, and will create certainty. Legal counsel will discuss alternatives including the corporate purchase of the shares, purchase by the remaining shareholders, and hybrids including spousal rollovers, the tax implications under the alternatives to the estate and to the remaining shareholders, the use of insurance funding, payment terms, security and so forth.
In family held corporations, expectations for succession (how management is succeeded) and liquidation (how the shareholding interests are turned into cash) are particularly difficult and require unique and sometimes innovative solutions. A Shareholder’s Agreement is a valuable tool in estate planning for resolving how competing expectations for liquidation and succession are accommodated.
I am the sole proprietor of a profitable construction business that I want to expand. I’m nervous about the risk associated with the business and its expansion. Should I incorporate?
We would strongly recommend incorporation. Incorporation provides you with limited liability to protect your personal assets from creditors, and tax advantages that will help you grow your business and your wealth.
A corporation is a legal entity distinct from its shareholders. The obligations, debts and liabilities of the business are those of the corporation and not of its shareholders. The protection from creditors is a significant advantage, particularly for businesses that are inherently risky. As the sole proprietor you are currently liable for every debt, liability, obligation and claim against your business. In your construction business, an inadvertent error or mistake by a sub-contractor, or simply the failure of the project caused by others, could result in huge liabilities for which you are personally exposed to creditors, risking loss of your house, savings and other assets. Incorporation of your business creates a significant barrier of protection. (Note: there are statutory and other limited exceptions to the protection provided by a corporation)
Active business income earned by a corporation is taxed at a much lower tax rate, approximately 15.5% in Ontario on income up to the small business limit of $500,000. This presents two wealth planning opportunities. Firstly, a growing business requires working capital. As a sole proprietorship, growing working capital is hard because profits are taxed at your personal marginal rate of taxation which may be in excess of 50%. By incorporating, you can grow your working capital, and thus expand your construction business, at a much faster rate because of the low rate of corporate tax. Secondly, by leaving profits in the Corporation in excess of your personal needs, you can grow your retirement savings in the corporation at a much faster rate. (In subsequent publications, we will talk about how to creditor-proof these savings).
A corporation provides for legal tax splitting with members of your family, if they are made shareholders of your corporation. The shares of your corporation may be structured so that you remain in control of the corporation notwithstanding shares issued to family members.