Picture this: You and your companion are identical owners in a small commercial enterprise which you’ve each constructed from the floor up. You’ve got a sturdy running relationship built on trust. As a result, business is off the ground and you wouldn’t dream of anything else. Your households share a close friendship. Both families have a strong bond together. Each partner would do anything for them and their families.

Then in the future, your associate dies and is now is out of the picture.

Having Lost Control Over Your business

This is a state of affairs; that is not to unusual. Many agencies confronted with this challenge have collapsed under its weight. Possibly it become due to the fact the companion’s circle of relatives needed to pay estate taxes and that they looked to the surviving associate — you — for cash equal to the quantity in their proportion of the organization. That could suggest forced sale or liquidation. Or, maybe the associate’s partner, or other circle of relative’s participants — who now own half of of the enterprise — need to be the “boss.” but, you may take movement to make your self less inclined and extra on top of things of the future of your commercial enterprise.

Preparing Yourself ahead of time for a Buy-Sell Agreement

As opposed to being in a role in which you can potentially share, or cede, control over your business, you can install a plan which can make certain that the commercial enterprise keeps, the deceased’s estate has the funds essential to help meet their responsibilities, and that full ownership passes seamlessly to the surviving partner. This plan is known as a buy-sell agreement. It is also called a buyout agreement.

A buy-sell settlement is a legal document that spells out what happens to the business if one partner dies, turns into disabled or retires. This foundational settlement typically details the present day price of the business (to help decide the charge of the buyout), identifies who a companion can, and cannot, sell their ownership stocks to, describes tax results of a buyout, and specifies the strategies and steps that have to be taken inside the occasion of a buyout.

Funding a buy-sell agreement

Buy-sell agreements are a vital part of your succession planning process. Like all components of a powerful succession plan, the investment of the buyout should be specified within the agreement. One common method to funding a buy-sell agreement is through life insurance. In this case, every proprietor (or the business) purchases lifestyles coverage guidelines on the opposite associate, and in the occasion of demise, the proceeds are used to buy the possession proportion from the deceased accomplice’s estate. This creates a “clean break” for all worried and can decrease disagreements between both parties. The property gets their share of the price of the agency, and the surviving partner receives complete possession.

Buy-sell agreements are a critical a part of any partnership. You, your circle of relatives, your accomplice and their circle of relatives, your employees, and your network want to recognize that, should something unexpected occurs, a smooth transition of possession will take vicinity. After all, it’s really worth shielding all you and your business associate have worked hard to build together.

A buy–sell agreement, also known as a buyout agreement, is a legally binding agreement between co-owners of a business that governs the situation if a co-owner dies or is otherwise forced to leave the business, or chooses to leave the business.

It may be thought of as a sort of premarital agreement between business partners/shareholders or is sometimes called a “business will”. An insured buy–sell agreement (triggered buyout is funded with life insurance on the participating owners’ lives) is often recommended by business-succession specialists and financial planners to ensure that the buy–sell arrangement is well-funded and to guarantee that there will be money when the buy–sell event is triggered.


A buy–sell agreement consists of several legally binding clauses in a business partnership or operating agreement or a separate, freestanding agreement, and controls the following business decisions:

  • Who can buy a departing partner’s or shareholder’s share of the business (this may include outsiders or be limited to other partners/shareholders);
  • What events will trigger a buyout, (the most common events that trigger a buyout are: death, disability, retirement, or an owner leaving the company) and;
  • What price will be paid for a partner’s or shareholder’s interest in the partnership and so on.

Buy-sell agreement can be in the form of a cross-purchase plan or a repurchase (entity or stock-redemption) plan. For greater neutrality and effectiveness of the buy–sell arrangement, the service of a corporate trustee

Deferred compensation is an arrangement in which a portion of an employee’s income is paid out at a date after which that income is actually earned. Examples of deferred compensation include pensions, retirement plans, and stock options. The primary benefit of most deferred compensation is the deferral of tax to the date(s) at which the employee actually receives the income.


United States

In the US, Internal Revenue Code section 409A regulates the treatment for federal income tax purposes of “nonqualified deferred compensation”, the timing of deferral elections and of distributions.[1]

While technically “deferred compensation” is any arrangement where an employee receives wages after they have earned them, the more common use of the phrase refers to “nonqualified” deferred compensation and a specific part of the tax code that provides a special benefit to corporate executives and other highly compensated corporate employees.

nonqualifying deferred compensation

Deferred compensation is a written agreement between an employer and an employee where the employee voluntarily agrees to have part of their compensation withheld by the company, invested on their behalf, and given to them at some pre-specified point in the future. Nonqualifying differs from qualifying in that

  • Employers may also pick and choose which employees they provide deferred compensation benefits to rather than being required to offer the same plan to all employees.[2]
  • They offer flexibility. The employer can treat those chosen differently. The benefit promised need not follow any of the rules associated with qualified plans (e.g. the 25% or $44,000 limit on contributions to defined contribution plans). The vesting schedule can be whatever the employer would like it to be.[3]
  • Companies may provide deferred compensation benefits to independent contractors, not just employees.
  • The employer contributions are not tax deductible [2]
  • Employees must pay taxes on deferred compensation at the time such compensation is eligible to be received (not just when it is actually drawn out).[2]

Deferred compensation is also sometimes referred to as deferred comp, DC, non-qualified deferred comp, NQDC or golden handcuffs.

Deferred comp is only available to senior management and other highly compensated employees of companies. Although DC isn’t restricted to public companies, there must be a serious risk that a key employee could leave for a competitor and deferred comp is a “sweetener” to try to entice them to stay. If a company is closely held (i.e. owned by a family, or a small group of related people), the IRS will look much more closely at the potential risk to the company. A top producing salesman for a pharmaceutical company could easily find work at a number of good competitors. A parent who jointly owns a business with their children is highly unlikely to leave to go to a competitor. There must be a “substantial risk of forfeiture,” or a strong possibility that the employee might leave, for the plan to be tax-deferred. Among other things, the IRS may want to see an independent (unrelated) Board of Directors’ evaluation of the arrangement.


A “qualifying” deferred compensation plan is one complying with the ERISA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. Qualifying plans include 401(k) (for non-government organizations), 403(b) (for public education employers), 501(c)(3) (for non-profit organizations and ministers), and 457(b) (for state and local government organizations)[2] ERISA, has many regulations, one of which is how much employee income can qualify. (The tax benefits in qualifying plans were intended to encourage lower-to-middle income earners to save more, high income-earners already having high savings rates.) As of 2008 the maximum qualifying annual income was $230,000. So, for example, if a company declared a 25% profit sharing contribution, any employee making less than $230,000 could deposit the entire amount of their profit sharing check (up to $57,500, 25% of $230,000) in their ERISA-qualifying account. For the company CEO making $1,000,000/year, $57,500 would be less than 1/4 of his $250,000 profit sharing cut. It is for high earners like the CEO, that companies provide “DC” (i.e. deferred compensation plans).

In an ERISA-qualified plan (like a 401(k) plan), the company’s contribution to the plan is tax deductible to the plan as soon as it’s made, but not taxable to the individual participants until it’s withdrawn. So if a company puts $1,000,000 into a 401(k) plan for employees, it writes off $1,000,000 that year. If the company is in the 25% bracket, the contribution costs it only $750,000 (with $250,000 saved in taxes).

  • Assets in plans that fall under ERISA (for example, a 401(k) plan) must be put in a trust for a sole benefit of its employees. If a company goes bankrupt, creditors aren’t allowed to get assets inside the company’s ERISA plan. Deferred comp, because it doesn’t fall under ERISA, is a general asset of the corporation. While the corporation may choose to not invade those assets as a courtesy, legally they’re allowed to and may be forced to give deferred compensation assets to creditors in the case of a bankruptcy. A special kind of trust called a rabbi trust (because it was first used in the compensation plan for a rabbi) may be used. A rabbi trust puts a “fence” around the money inside the corporation and protects it from being raided for most uses other than the corporation’s bankruptcy/insolvency. However, plan participants may not receive a guarantee that they’ll be paid prior to creditors being paid in case of insolvency.
  • ERISA plans may not discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees on a percentage basis. If the president of the company is making $1,000,000/year and a clerk is making $30,000, and the company declares a 25% profit sharing contribution, the president of the company gets to count the first $230,000 only (2008 limit) and put $57,500 into his account and $7,500 into the clerk’s account. For the president, $57,500 represents only 5.75% of total income that grows tax deferred, and if the company wants to provide an additional tax incentive, DC may be an option.
  • Federal income tax rates change on a regular basis. If an executive is assuming tax rates will be higher at the time they retire, they should calculate whether or not deferred comp is appropriate. The top federal tax rate in 1975 was 70%. In 2008, it was 35%. If an executive defers compensation at 35% and ends up paying 70%, that was a bad idea. If the reverse is true, it was brilliant. Unfortunately, only time will tell, but the decision to pay the taxes once the rates have changed is irreversible so careful consideration must be given.

Deferred comp agreements

Plans are usually put in place either at the request of executives or as an incentive by the Board of Directors. They’re drafted by lawyers, recorded in the Board minutes with parameters defined. There’s a doctrine called constructive receipt, which means an executive can’t have control of the investment choices or the option to receive the money whenever he wants. If he’s allowed to do either of those 2 things or both, he often has to pay taxes on it right away. For example: if an executive says “With my deferred comp money, buy 1,000 shares of Microsoft stock” that’s usually too specific to be allowed. If he says “Put 25% of my money in large cap stocks” that’s a much broader parameter. Again, ask legal counsel for specific requirements.


In an ERISA-qualified plan (like a 401(k) plan), the company’s contribution to the plan is deductible to the plan as soon as it’s made, but not taxable to the participants until it’s withdrawn. So if a company puts $1,000,000 into a 401(k) plan for employees, it writes off $1,000,000 that year. If the company is in the 25% bracket, the contribution is actually $750,000 (because they didn’t pay $250,000 in taxes – 25% of 1M). In a deferred comp plan, the company doesn’t get to deduct the taxes in the year the contribution is made, they deduct them the year the contribution becomes non-forfeitable. For example, if ABC company allows SVP John Smith to defer $200,000 of his compensation in 1990, which he will have the right to withdraw for the first time in the year 2000, ABC puts the money away for John in 1990, John pays taxes on it in 2000. If John keeps working there after 2000, it doesn’t matter because he was allowed to receive it (or “constructively received”) the money in 2000.