Updated July 13, 2020: 

An LLC buyout agreement template provides a framework for the legal paperwork that makes up an LLC buyout agreement. A buyout agreement outlines the procedure that must be followed if a member of your limited liability company (LLC) wants to sell his or her ownership stake.

When Is a Buyout Agreement Needed?

A buyout agreement, also called a buy-sell agreement, makes sense when:

  • As the owner, you want to prevent other members from selling their ownership stake to an outside entity.
  • You want to make sure owners or their estates sell their interests in the company if they become disabled or die.
  • You want to require remaining members to buy the ownership interests of a member who retires, becomes disabled, or dies.
  • You want to establish a fair price for the business to prevent disagreements when one member wants to leave the company while others remain.

If you form an LLC with several members, eventually the circumstances of one or more members will likely change. If a buyout agreement is not in place when this occurs, the LLC may be required to dissolve, depending on the laws in your state. If this occurs, the company's assets will be liquidated and divided among the members. Even if the state law doesn't require a dissolution, discord can occur without a document that spells out whether remaining members must be bought out by the leaving member and what the amount of such a buyout should be.

A buyout agreement also prevents a member from selling his or her interest to a person or entity with whom the remaining members prefer not to do business. The process of writing the agreement is also beneficial, since it opens communication among members about your expectations and hopes for the future of the business.

What Is a Buy-Sell Agreement?

This agreement details the plan for a co-owned company if one of the owners leaves, retires, or dies. This document contains provisions to take effect in case of:

  • Divorce
  • Bankruptcy
  • Ownership transfer
  • Retirement
  • Disability
  • Death

It also includes how and to whom owners can sell their shares of the business and the value of ownership percentages.

A buy-sell agreement is recommended for corporations, LLCs, partnerships, sole proprietorships, and other business entities, except for those with married owners, parent/child owners, or just one owner. Although it makes the most sense to draft this agreement when the business starts, it can be created at any time. You can also include buy-sell provisions as part of the LLC's operating agreement.

Drafting the Buyout Agreement

If a member is planning to leave and you don't already have a buyout agreement in place, call a meeting of all members to draft this document. Before the meeting, provide all members with a written agenda that lists the issues at hand, including how the value of the membership stake in question will be determined; whether other members, the LLC itself, or a third party will purchase the percentage; and the terms of the purchase. You may want to review a sample buyout agreement to ensure you're covering all the bases.

Forced Sales and Buyout Options

When a member departs an LLC, the buy-sell agreement covers the LLC's right to purchase the departing member's share of the company. In addition, however, it can include terminology that makes this buyout mandatory, including:

  • Option to Purchase Owner's Interest: The LLC and its owners have the right to purchase the departing member's interest from the member as well as the member's family or estate. The terms can specify the amount of time allowed for this to take place, as well as a pre-determined value for the interest. This provision can be used when a member dies, retires, or develops permanent disability.
  • Right to Force a Sale: The departing LLC member has the right to force the other LLC members to buy out their membership share. Again, the provision may specify an amount of time for this to take place along with the price of the member's interest. This request can be made by the member or their family.

Membership Valuation in Buyout Agreement

All members must agree with the membership valuation detailed in the buyout agreement. Members can choose to make an informal valuation themselves or hire a professional appraiser to conduct the valuation. Once all the members have determined and approved a value, you'll need to decide whether the ownership percentage will be purchased on a payment schedule or with a lump sum. If you already have a buyout agreement in place, it should detail the procedures for determining valuation and payment terms.

LLC Disadvantages

Although a Limited Liability Company is a beneficial structure for many business owners, it does have a few disadvantages. LLCs have many similarities to corporations, but one major difference is that it is much more difficult for an individual owner to leave an LLC than to leave a corporation.

LLCs are privately held businesses and must follow strict rules for the transfer of ownership. Unlike corporate shares of stock, calculating the value of ownership interests held by individual LLC owners is not always a straightforward process. Moreover, since LLC owners pay taxes on their own income share from the business, buyouts cause tax issues as well. This is why a buy-sell or buyout agreement is so important for LLCs.

The Steps in Releasing an LLC Member

When an LLC member decides to leave the business, there are certain steps that need to be followed:

  • Consulting the LLC's Operating Agreement.
  • Balancing the capital account of the departing member.
  • Calculating the value of the member's ownership interest.
  • Drafting a purchase agreement.
  • Executing a purchase agreement
  • Re-adjusting capital accounts.
  • Delivering the final K-1 form to the departing LLC member.

Operating Agreements

Every LLC needs an operating agreement, not just for buyouts but also for general business purposes. It provides the rules that members have agreed to for how the business will be run, the roles of each member, and how each member communicates with the other members. Operating agreements should include some guidance as to how the LLC will deal with a departing member. However, a separate buyout agreement will make the process go much more smoothly.

Capital Accounts

An LLC should have capital accounts, which track the contributions each member makes to the LLC. It also records all financial distributions the LLC makes to the member. The member could make loans to the LLC, or the member could borrow from the LLC; all of this information is kept in the member's capital account.

The first step is to see if either side owes money to the other. If so, all debts must be settled before any further action can be taken on the buyout. The operating agreement should provide guidance on how the departing member's share should be distributed. If it does not, the default action is to equally divide the member's interest share equally to each member through their capital accounts.

Purchase Agreements

The buy-sell or buyout agreement lays out the process of buying out a departing member before it happens. The purchase agreement takes place at the time of the buyout; it is a legal contract stating all of the transaction's terms. It needs to match the terms in the operating agreement, if covered there, and the buyout agreement. In addition, you may want to include other provisions. For example, a non-compete, non-disclosure, or confidentiality clause can protect your business.

All involved parties must review the purchase agreement and sign it. Who is responsible for signing the purchase agreement depends on the LLC's structure. It may be an LLC member or an official representative of the LLC.

K-1 Forms

LLCs are pass-through entities, which means that profits go directly to LLC members, and they report this income on their personal taxes. Therefore, when a member departs the LLC, they will need to pay taxes on their share of the LLC income. The following are reported on the K-1 form:

The amount of business income and losses for the departing member, along with all of their financial activity within the business and their capital account, is reported on the K-1 form.

Your LLC should consult an accountant and an attorney during any buyout procedure once terms have been agreed upon. The accountant can ensure that all members are aware of the buyout's tax consequences, while the attorney can assist with drafting the buyout agreement and associated documents.

Other Considerations When Drafting a Buyout Agreement

If a buyout agreement is not already in place and members are unable to reach an agreement during the negotiation process, a costly lawsuit may result. In this case, it may be less expensive to dissolve the company and liquidate its assets to pay debts and distribute the remaining assets than it is to buy out a single member.

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