My original plan was to die at 108. But as I age, I realize that may be a little unrealistic.
The truth is that most of us do not think a lot about dying and getting sick, but it happens to the best of us. Many business owners are just not prepared for death or serious illness.
Did you know that Abraham Lincoln, Howard Hughes, Sonny Bono, and many other famous celebrities died without a will? Believe it or not, many years ago a business owner had a severe heart attack at one of my classes and he wrote his will on the cover of our training manual. Ignoring our mortality is just foolish. That being said, here are some basic things you may want to put in place.
Do you have a will? Wills for business owners can be complicated. Too many owners hold off creating a will because they are trying to deal with a complicated situation. At least have an interim will that is basic and simple. Should you die without a will, you do not want the government to handle your affairs. Also, address the issue of having a living will. The purpose of a living will is to express your desires should you become incapacitated. It does not require a doctor signature. A DNR (do not resuscitate) must be signed by a doctor.
Are all your personal papers and documents in one place? Digging through a bunch of files trying to find them is tough. Make sure a third party knows where to find critical documents. Did you know in some states, bank deposit boxes cannot be accessed until probate? A simple letter of instruction laying out your wishes can also be helpful.
If you get sick, are there safeguards put in place? Can someone else sign checks and keep things going? Can somebody in your company sell work and manage crews? A friend, bookkeeper or office manager might be able to help keep things moving along but someone has to be able to calculate estimates and manage production.
Do you have a power of attorney in place? This appoints someone to make decisions on your behalf. Various types and scopes of coverage are possible for durable powers of attorney. You can make them as broad or narrow as you like.
One of the disadvantages in having a husband/wife business team is the impact of one of them becoming ill. A serious illness for either the wife or husband will take both out of the business. Even if your spouse has nothing to do with the business, a critical illness will call you away from the business. Make sure a plan is in place should this happen. Having a spouse who is really ill is stressful enough without having to worry about how the business will keep operating. If your spouse does not work in your business, make sure they know your business advisors and who to call. When a networking customer of ours dies, it is difficult to help if I have not met the spouse.
Have you pre-planned your funeral or cremation? While this may seem morbid, doing so is a thoughtful gesture for your family. Having family show up with everything taken care of is a priceless inheritance. Be kind to your kids.
If possible, have strong, long-term employees in place. If your company is the kind of place that can never keep employees, think how this issue will be magnified in a time of need. Smaller contractors who use subs are very vulnerable. If your business is making money, think of a strong middle manager as having an insurance policy. It would be a shame to see all the things you worked years to create quickly slip away. Business is not forgiving and moves along. Not having a plan or back up in place is also not fair to the people who work for you.
Do you have an emergency plan written and readily available in the office? If you, as owner, are unavailable, what is the procedure for a company-related death, accident, etc.? Is your insurance agent, lawyer, safety consultant and other key professionals’ phone numbers readily available? It is a little late to try and find a safety consultant when an employee just fell off a roof.
What is your policy for employees regarding illness? It would be pretty harsh to knock on the intensive care window and tell someone he or she is fired. State laws vary and we are not lawyers, so we suggest you contact a local labor lawyer. For many employers, a group disability and life insurance policy make sense. If you have a younger workforce, the rates can be quite reasonable.
Death and illness plans need not be complicated; however, it helps everyone if basic information is readily available.