Ending Soon! Save 33% on All Access

3 Key Agreements Every Family Business Needs in Writing Sadly, family businesses are not immune to the disputes that afflict every business. Putting agreements in writing can save the family, as well as the business.

By Daphne Mallory

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Family business law is not family law. The latter deals with divorce, child custody, alimony and related issues. Family business law deals with starting, growing and transferring your business. The tricky part is, there isn't a body of law called "family business law" (although I hope to change that). It's an intersection of many practice areas, including business law, trusts and estates, property law, securities, non-profit law (ex: for family foundations) and yes, even family law. When looking at legal agreements, you have to borrow from these practice areas and apply them to your family business.

Family business agreement.

In an ideal world, a hand-shake would be sufficient for you and adult family members to launch your family business. That's difficult to do these days, especially when family members have to protect and care for their children, spouses and estate. A family business agreement gives you legal protection and can serve as a guiding document. If you make decisions contrary to what you agreed upon, you can refer to it. You can use a number of agreements, such as a general partnership agreement or limited partnership agreement and more.

In Broccoli v. Broccoli, brothers of a family business fought over a $64,000 loan (among other things) that one brother issued to another family corporation. There weren't any agreements to govern how, when and why the brothers could issue loans. Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Lederberg wrote this about the case, "The facts of this case reveal a bitter and long-running battle among three brothers, Biagio, Benedetto and Anthony Broccoli, that in the end destroyed their fraternal bonds and Delaine Auto Body, the family business started by their father in 1955." That's a strong statement and perhaps a warning that families working together do need business agreements.

On a side note, I clerked for Justice Lederberg. She is now in a better place, and may she rest in peace.

Related: How to Protect Your Personal Finances From Business Risks

Family business buy-sell agreement.

A buy-sell agreement determines what happens to your family business in the event of a disability or death of one or more family members. You can also use it to determine the value of the business. The agreement is binding on third parties, but also heirs and relatives. It's a way to keep the business going when unexpected or tragic events occur that make it difficult or impossible for you or a family member to continue with the business activities.

In Etienne v. Miller, two brothers asked the court to enforce their buy-sell provision in a trust agreement. The defendants were beneficiaries of the trust and contested the brothers' buy-sell agreement because they felt the brothers undervalued the family business. The court respected the brothers' decision and the buy-sell agreement stood. These agreements are enforceable and you get to control what happens to your family business when you put one into place.

Related: How to Divorce-Proof Your Company

A prenuptial agreement.

A prenuptial agreement spells out what happens to the family business in the event of a divorce. If you've inherited a family business, started one prior to marriage, or are on your second marriage with children from a prior marriage, then a prenuptial agreement is a legal option to consider.

In Landers v. Landers, the trial court awarded half the value of the family business, a machine shop, to the husband. The wife was awarded custody of the children. The shop was the couple's most significant marital asset. Here's what the court of appeals said about the trial court's decision, "With no further explanation, the judge then valued the company at $150,000, a sum less than half of the expert's valuation and a decision contrary to the weight of the evidence." The court of appeals ended up valuing the family business at $332,000 and awarding the wife one half her share of the marital estate. Let's say the wife's father handed her the family business prior to marriage. A prenuptial agreement may have ensured that she retained 100 percent of the business.

The cases brought each year prove that agreements, even among family, is necessary. If nothing else, you can clearly state your desires and vision in these legal agreements.

Related: When a Tattoo Equals a Lawsuit

Daphne Mallory

Daphne Mallory Foundation

Daphne Mallory, Esq. is best known for sharing smart ideas to solve problems. Whether on television, on stage, in the boardroom, or before governments, her speeches and seminars are interactive and rich in content.

Billboard Magazine described Mallory as "Engaging Fans, forging a new path." She appeared on ABC, FOX and NBC and in Entrepreneur Magazine, Essence, Brown Alumni Magazine, Self and more. She hosts a TV show: Family Business with Daphne on KSAW-ABC.

Mallory's training programs include Women & Family Business, Grow Community/ Grow Profits, Grow Community/Grow Memberships, Roadmap to Family Business, and Sales Training for Change Agents.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Business News

TikTok Reportedly Laid Off a 'Large Percentage' of Employees as the App's Fate in the U.S. Remains Unclear

Laid-off TikTok employees were notified Wednesday night through Thursday morning.

Personal Finance

This Investment Bundle Includes a Trading Course and Stock Screener Tool for $150

Approach the stock market with an increased understanding.

Business News

Four Seasons Orlando Responds to Viral TikTok: 'There's Something Here For All Ages'

The video has amassed over 45.4 million views on TikTok.

Growing a Business

5 Strategies to Know As You Scale Your Business

Scaling a service-based company requires a comprehensive approach that goes beyond simply increasing revenue. It requires careful planning, strategic decision-making and a deep understanding of market dynamics.

Growing a Business

The Right Way to Ask Someone for a Million Dollars, According to a Fundraiser Who Does It For a Living

No matter what you're raising money for, Wanda Urbanskia says, the same basic rules apply.