Thursday, July 12, 2007

Spouse as Partner

I got to admit that I have an aversion against partnerships. I think most attorneys do not like them. Why? Liability. Law school beats us over the head to avoid liability for our clients as much as possible.

Partnerships ooze with liability issues. From your partner's creditors seizing business assets for his debts to your assets being on the line for business creditors, partnerships just scare lawyers. Maybe a partnership between corporations or limited liability companies or between a corporation and a limited liability company.

With all these problems with partnerships why have one with a spouse? Because partnerships can be implied by actions as well as by a formal agreement. Two spouses start a business and even without a formal agreement, a partnership can be created by their acts. Of course, the husband and wife have probably not even thought of talking to a lawyer about the kind of problems they might be getting themselves into. Why spend good money that could go into the business?

If anything goes wrong with the business, then business creditors can go after all the joint assets. Since most businesses fail, what do you think now of not talking to a lawyer?

What would chatting with an attorney accomplish? I repeat that most attorneys would get the business set up as a corporation or a limited liability company. If the clients were adamantly committed to a partnership, then there would need to be a partnership agreement.

If the clients want to keep the business running as long as possible, they need to consider all of the problems including divorce. I think the equivalent of a prenuptial agreement (or a post-nuptial agreement, if already married) needs to be considered regardless of the business type used by the husband and wife. With a partnership and limited liability company having a written document (and a LLC requiring a written operating agreement) setting out how the business shall be run, incorporating some of the prenuptial/post-nuptial's terms does not seem out of place. Based upon that reasoning, they need a separate prenuptial/post-nuptial agreement if the business is to be set up as a corporation.

Then they need to consider their retirement and estate planning objectives. If the business entity is a partnership or a limited liability company, these objectives need expression in the partnership agreement or the LLC operating agreement and for corporations in a separate document.