How long will you be dead for?

Brian Tracey, the famous sales trainer, has a story that he tells about the importance of great questions.

Brian was having a meeting with a life insurance salesman who asked if he had enough life insurance. Since he did not want to deal with this man, Brian assured him he did have enough insurance. As he was about to finish the meeting, the salesman asked Brian "how long will you be dead for?" Because, he went on, "with the life insurance policy that you currently have, you are going to need to come back to life after six months to help pay the family bills...."

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The reason I bring this up has nothing to do with life insurance, although especially in the early stages of an entrepreneur's lifetime, life insurance might be a good bet. Unfortunately, most people in business don't consider their untimely death. None of us want an early expiry date and while we might hope to live to a ripe old age having accomplished all our objectives, life has a funny way of throwing a wrench into the best made plans of mice and men.

While I have never been asked to help out a business after the untimely death of the owner, I know that day will be coming soon. Often, I have clients who want to work with me because they are preparing for their exit from the business. Some have the foresight to make plans when they hear they have an illness or are approaching retirement age. Unfortunately for some business owners, they don't have the right plans in place when they die and as a result, there is no one to help their family or employees negotiate through the traumatic days that follow the loss of an owner or founder.

For solopreneurs or small businesses where the business revolves around the owner, there is no option but to shut the business down. Usually a lawyer or accountant can help you quickly transition through the necessary paperwork. However, when there are employees and customers, substantial assets, loans or payables as well as work in progress, that are often factors in larger businesses, things are usually much more complicated and can take months or years to wrap up.

So what would happen if your staff woke up one morning and discovered that you have died? Hopefully they will miss you and shed some tears, which means that you probably made a difference in their life.

However, without a plan for emergencies, like death or even the disability of an owner or founder, companies that were once going concerns, stumble and begin the downward slide into oblivion. The lack of a vision, direction and strategy that the owner brought is missing after a few weeks or months while the family is grieving. Often key employees who doubt the future without a leader jump ship. Without leadership, many businesses and their employees become paralyzed by indecision. In either case, the future is often bleak for the future of the business.

While a life insurance policy might protect your family from some of the financial losses of your income, does it protect them from the financial liability of your businesses? To ensure that your business can survive you, there are a number of things that you might do, these include:

writing down a plan for the worst-case scenarios and discussing them with key staff members.

talking to trusted advisors including lawyers, accountants or mentors, about what your plans for the business are.

discussing or documenting some options for transitioning the ownership of your business should disaster hit such as who should your management talk to, will they need a business coach or fractional CEO to come in and help, what should they expect for leadership from your family, how would you value the business if it needs to be sold, what happens if they can't sell the business and how should they deal with family.

While the answers to these questions might be included in your will, having backup documentation in your operations manual or company safe, might be a great start as well.

Not many people come back to life after being dead! Chances are, you won't either.

If you want to rest in peace before and after you die, it might make sense to come up with some concrete plans that position your business for the benefit of your family and employees long after your untimely departure.

-- Dave Fuller, MBA, is an award-winning business coach and strategist. Not resting in peace? Email

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