How To: Transfer Ownership to Children

Legal matters, business strategy, and life perspectives from the mind of a non-attorney.

One of my life’s obsessions is empathy.

For those who don’t know what that is, empathy is the ability to understand and share in the feelings of another.

Put another way: It is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. To understand what they think, how they feel – and beyond that – why they feel the way that they do.

Empathizing with someone is one of the kindest, purest things you can do for another human being. It takes TIME to empathize. It expresses true care.


Beyond that, the practice of empathy helps YOU succeed in life. By empathizing, you instantly become a better communicator.

Practicing Empathy


Here is how most people give advice:

Friend: “My boss is such a jerk. He treats me like I’m an idiot or something, constantly patronizing me. I don’t know if I can handle working there anymore…”

Advice-Giver: “Yeah, I remember when I had a boss like that. I wouldn’t put up with that if I was you. You need to get out of there. Just move on? You deserve to be treated better than that.”

Friend: “You might be right…”


Here is how someone practicing empathy gives advice:

Friend: “My boss is such a jerk. He treats me like I’m an idiot or something, constantly patronizing me. I don’t know if I can handle working there anymore…”

Advice-Giver: “Yikes, that doesn’t sound good. Does he treat everyone like that?”

Friend: “Sort of. I’ve heard other people complain about it too.”

Advice-Giver: “Do you like the other people that you work with?”

Friend: “Yes, I really do. There are a lot of good people there.”

Advice-Giver: “Do you enjoy what you do?”

Friend: “Yeah, I actually love it. And they give me a ton of flexibility with my hours too. I just wish he wouldn’t treat me like that sometimes. It’s so frustrating!”

Advice-Giver: “That would frustrate me too. Definitely a confidence/morale killer for you. How do you respond when he talks down to you?”

Friend: “I don’t know… I guess I usually just not and bite my tongue. Try not to say something smart back to him, you know?”

Advice-Giver: “That’s definitely a good thing to do. It amazes me how some “leaders” can be so out of touch with the abilities of their employees. I had a boss like that once. Only thing I could say is that if you want something to change, you might have to experiment with how you respond to him talking down to you.”

Friend: “What do you mean?”

Advice-Giver: “Well, obviously you know the situation better than I do… But when you just nod and bit your tongue, he might walk away having no idea if you really understand what he said. It might kill you to do it, but you could try vocalizing your understanding, having more positive body language. I mean, don’t be overtly sarcastic about it, but force yourself to be genuinely positive and express your understanding. It might take a while, but eventually he might start treating you differently.”

Friend: “Huh. I never thought about that. I guess I could give it a try.”


Who gives better advice?


The best communicators are selfless. They take the time to gather more information. They figure out how the other person feels. Then they adapt their own actions/behavior/advice accordingly.


Communication is a huge key to the successful transition of a family business. As the current owner of the family business, you are in a great position to extend empathy to any children who are next in line.


Transfers to Children

Here are a few tips:

  1. If you want them, tell them. If there is an opportunity for them to “take over”, it is up to you to make it known. “Well they haven’t shown any interest” is a cop-out. Ask yourself why they haven’t shown interest. Talk to your spouse about it. There are likely some obvious reasons. If they aren’t clear to you, they may be clear to your spouse. Above all else, have an open and honest (non-confrontational) conversation with your kid(s). It’s up to you to be the leader that your family and your business needs. If you don’t do it, you will always wonder, “what if?”
  2. Don’t expect them to be you. It happens ALL THE TIME. There is a named successor. Maybe it’s the owner’s daughter. She has a solid role within the family business. Business owner: “I don’t know if this is going to work out. She just doesn’t have the sales skills to drive new business and that is an important part of what I do.” Stop it. Focus on her strengths instead of her one glaring weakness. Figure out if there is a way that you can restructure the business so that sales no longer fall on the owner’s shoulders… i.e. hire a sales team!
  3. Address concerns directly. If there ARE unavoidable concerns with your successor, address them directly. Don’t make backhanded comments hoping to send the message. Don’t embarrass them in front of other employees. And most of all, don’t sit on your concerns “hoping” that something will magically change. If you do, you are setting everyone up for failure.
  4. Don’t forget about non-family employees. Whether you made specific promises to key employees or not, don’t forget about them as you begin making a transition. Allow them to express any concerns, and let them be a part of the solution to those concerns. This will help them feel valued and “in control” as the transition begins to take place. Also, there are many ways to reward key people for their years of loyalty without giving them cash or a stake in the family business.
  5. Don’t get greedy. We see this one a lot too. A business owner will have an outstanding successor lined up, the transition of duties will go extremely smoothly and all-of=-a-sudden the business will experience a growth period. Of course, no formal agreements were made so the owner decides to hand on and reap the rewards a little (or a lot) longer. Make formal agreements and stick to the terms of those agreements, otherwise conflict is inevitable.
  6. Show them how to buy-in. It is entirely possible (likely, in fact) that you cannot afford to “give” the company to your successor. Don’t let this deter you from keeping the business within the family. If time is on your side, there are ways of helping your successor build enough capital to buy you out.
  7. Multiple children. The absolute worst thing you can do is ignore the conversation and keep the future of your estate a mystery to your children. In the face of mystery, most people begin to act very irrationally. Starving for clarity on the situation, they will formulate their own (false) set of facts to try and control the narrative. Depending on their outlook on life, those facts will be heavily slanted for or against them, and fracture within the family will ensue. This can all be avoided if you – the leader of the family – are willing to step up and provide a clear and well-reasoned agenda for how the business will be distributed. You should do it the moment you sense it becoming a concern among your children.


Above all, be selfless and practice empathy while exploring the possibility of business transition. For those that are able to do this, the logistics of “who, when and how” become exponentially easier. If you need someone to help you plan out the logistics, give us a call. J


As always, give us a call or shoot me an email if you have more specific questions!

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