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Succession in the family – inheriting a company – a delicate matter – News


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When it comes to company handovers, problems often arise because of money or a dispute. The Federal Council now wants to intervene.

Jan Schibli was 32 years old when he took over his father’s company. All shares in the Zurich electrical company went to him 20 years ago. His three sisters were compensated with participation certificates and the company’s real estate.

Everyone agreed that Jan Schibli should run the company. “It was really nice to feel the harmony in the family,” he says.

His father, Hans Jörg Schibli, now 86 years old, never thought about quarrels between his children. “The greatest joy was that the four children never resisted anything or asked strange questions. There was not a hint of envy or resentment.”

There is not always so much peace and unity within families. Balz Hösly, a lawyer specializing in inheritance law, observes this.

One mistake is that sensitive issues are not discussed in a family: “We all know that from our lives. You circumnavigate the cliffs where you could get rowdy. And you wait too long to bring certain things to the table.”

A decision you only make once in a lifetime

The Institute for SMEs and Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Gallen is also aware of the sensitive issue of handovers. “For many entrepreneurs, the question of inheritance is a very controversial and difficult question,” says director Thomas Zellweger. “On the one hand, there are considerations of what makes sense for the company, but on the other hand, what is fair within the family.” In addition, it is a decision that is usually only made once in a lifetime.

Lawyer Balz Hösly sees the company boss’s ability to let go as an additional problem area: “Most of the time you wait too long. And when you know that an average succession process takes between six and 14 years, you can’t wait until you’re 70 to start handing over the company. Then you run into a bottleneck.”

How many companies have to be liquidated or sold because of inheritance disputes cannot be quantified. But it can happen very quickly, as Balz Hösly says: “The current law is such that the company may not be passed on to an heir if the other heirs do not agree.”

3400 companies per year have financing problems

There are also financial bottlenecks: the inheriting person is often unable to pay off their co-heirs. In St. Gallen, it is assumed that around 3,400 companies and around 40,000 jobs are affected by financing problems as part of company transfers.

Thomas Zellweger says: “If we succeed in simplifying and supporting the handovers, then it is more likely that attractive jobs can also be retained.”

The Federal Council wants a revision of the law

On June 10, the Federal Council submitted a revision of the law to the parliamentary process. Adjustments to inheritance law are intended to prevent companies from failing due to handovers.

the Revision includes the following two points:

  • A court shall give a company to an heir or heiress to assign can – even if this was not decreed by the testator.
  • A deferred payment should be possible for up to ten years in order to pay off the co-heirs.

The proposed changes are independent of the general revision of inheritance law. This will come into force as early as January 2023 and, among other things, provides for a reduction in the compulsory portions.

On October 14, the Council of States Commission for Legal Questions dealt with the matter for the first time and held hearings on it. The Commission will continue its work at its November meeting with the introductory debate.

A company should not be sacrificed on the altar of an inheritance dispute.

Attorney Balz Hösly was part of the expert commission. He emphasizes who is at the center of the revision: “The Federal Council’s proposal does not want to protect the successor, but rather focuses on the continued prosperity of the company. In other words, the object of protection is the company as an economic value that you do not want to be sacrificed on the altar of an inheritance dispute.»

Jan Schibli is already thinking about how he wants to hand over his company one day. He is 51 years old and has three children. “I would like a child to succeed me. That would be dream number 1 for me.” So far, no one has shown any interest in wanting to be responsible for the now 500 employees.

One way or another, the time will come for him to let go: “I really hope that I can do it as well as my dad. But I’ll say it openly and honestly: Being on the road as an entrepreneur, being able to make your own decisions, not being accountable to anyone, having your employees, your team – that’s a great feeling.”

In five to six years, Jan Schibli wants to have a plan for the future of his company.

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