Guest blog: Succession planning for the procrastinator

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Editor's Note: This column is part of an ongoing series by family business leaders and advisors with information and ideas about topics unique to family businesses, developed in conjunction with the Conway Center for Family Business.

By Bea Wolper

Family business leaders reflect on making estate and succession decisions, and they should, but as Author Daniel Pink said, procrastination can masquerade as reflection. Even though most business owners know they should do estate and succession planning, they put off such decisions because they are "reflecting" on what to do. Only 50 percent of family businesses have a plan for succession, and only 50 percent of the general population have a will or trust in place.

So, why do people procrastinate?

It's fair to say that most people would rather be doing something else. No one likes thinking or talking about death. You can always find other things that need your immediate attention, and tell yourself, "I'll work on that tomorrow." A few people even think that if they wait long enough it may never happen. There are also people who don't want to make decisions until they have it perfectly figured out. Procrastinators want and need to have a perfect plan. They delay and delay, saying that they just need more time to figure it all out and to make their estate plan the "perfect" one.

Some family business owners are afraid of showing favoritism for one child over another, and are nervous to assume the responsibility of making hard decisions that affect the futures of their family.

Procrastinators are trapped by indecision. They may want to just leave everything equally, but such division may not be fair to all parties. What happens to the business? How can a special needs child be protected and taken care of? What about a child with an abuse problem? Procrastinators believe that if they never make the hard decision then no one would ever hold them responsible.

Often, procrastinators can become overwhelmed with estate planning and wills. They become bogged down by the details: too many choices; too many decisions, too much information. They become frozen.

Or, they believe the time involved will take forever, and they just do not have that much time. Procrastinators will figure out their estate plans when things slow down, when they are quieter, when work gets a little less hectic, when that loved one is finally feeling better. Fear not, procrastinators. There is help available. A good advisor can eliminate some or all the reasons to procrastinate, and help find solutions.

Once decisions are made and plans are in place, the realization that all decisions are always open to review and revision, if necessary, can help a former procrastinator get started. Once plans are in motion, it will be easier to keep going.

Once planning for the future has started, the highest hurdle has been overcome. Carve out just one hour to draw up an outline of your families' wants and needs, and get the process started. Then consult with your advisors to keep the ball rolling.

The rest, as they say, is easy.

Bea Wolper is a co-founder of the Conway Center for Family Business and serves as an Advisory Board member. She facilitates the Center's Women in Family Business and Succession Planning Peer Groups. She is a partner at Emens & Wolper LLP, in Columbus, Ohio.