Grizzled business veterans can pontificate about how successful enterprises are built from strength, character and luck. These elements, they say, together serve as the underpinning of business and of life beyond it. And it can be tempting to believe that earnest effort based on this foundation alone will be rewarded when the time comes.But when company owners look down the highway at the shimmering sale in the distance — the event towards which they have driven for decades — they should put those intangibles behind them. Planning, not fate, is the only real mechanism for ensuring the most value and the smoothest transition when a company changes hands.

Because just as luck and life help build the business, they can level it in the span of a few months. There are countless cases of death or disability striking an owner and forcing a sale at pennies on the dollar, or of families being torn apart by a sloppy succession when an operable plan could have been in motion to save the company’s true value and the sanity of its leaders. Should tragedy strike, emotional trauma does not have to be accompanied by financial disaster; owners must brace for the unpredictable by beginning the process earlier.

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