Succession is a wildly successful HBO drama about the Roy family, a group of dysfunctional billionaires struggling to maintain or gain power in the international media empire built by patriarch Logan Roy.
Each of Logan’s children (Connor, Kendall, Shiv, and Roman) and their partners and lackeys take their turn displaying a stunning capacity to throw everyone around them under the proverbial bus all to secure a top spot on Waystar Royco’s org chart. Machiavellian tactics are used to make and break Sun Tzu-inspired alliances so often that every character is basically walking around with a knife both in their back and in their hand.
Succession is a work of fiction, but that doesn’t mean it’s not realistic.
While most family-owned businesses are not the toxic waste pit Waystar Royco is, poor succession and estate planning can decimate otherwise longstanding and successful companies.
“People have said, ‘There’s no way this happens,’ but from a family business perspective the reason why this show really resonates with people is that there is a lot of truth in it,” Professor Kimberly Eddleston told Northeastern University’s campus paper. “When it comes to sibling rivalry and wealth and the splitting of wealth, it’s a really easy way for family members and children to keep score. It just explodes.”
Whether your family business is an enterprise corporation or a mom-and-pop shop, Succession can teach you how important it is to create an estate and business succession plan well before you actually need one.
Who takes over—the importance of succession planning
“For some of us it’s a sad day, but for others it’s a coronation derby.” – Shiv Roy, Succession
In the fourth and final season of Succession, Logan Roy dies before naming a successor to the Chairman and CEO role he’d maintained an iron grip on for years. With multiple ex-wives, four children, a cunning general counsel, and an antagonistic competitor threatening to tank the only deal keeping the company afloat, Logan’s death sets off a free-for-all power struggle that could easily blow up the entire corporation (and land people in jail).
But it didn’t have to be that way.
From the very first episode, it’s clear Logan Roy’s health is deteriorating. In real life, Logan’s dementia scare would have been the perfect opportunity for the Roys to have some hard, serious conversations about what post-Logan Waystar Royco would look like. Instead, every member of the family, even those only loosely involved with the company, let their egos get in the way.
As a result, Waystar Royco’s post-Logan legacy is a core meltdown.
Succession planning should ideally start at least five years before you plan to retire, but any time is better than too late. There are a lot of things that need to be considered when choosing a successor, including:
- Who has the experience, knowledge, and temperament to run the company the way you want it run? Does that person want to be in charge?
- How will assets be divided between family members who work for the company and those who don’t?
- How will the succession plan be communicated to key stakeholders?
Additionally, it’s important to remember that succession planning isn’t just about preparing for what happens to company operations after you retire or die. It’s also about making sure your employees and clients are protected if illness or injury incapacitates you (even temporarily).
Starting this decision process early and giving family members an opportunity to participate in the discussion doesn’t mean everyone will agree with the final plan. But it does decrease the likelihood that the transition period will result in a corporate civil war.
How estate planning helps you get what you want
“No. No discussion. I am his next of kin. I am his proxy. I am in charge. Thank you.” – Marcia Roy, Succession
When Logan Roy first falls ill, his third wife and children fight over decisions regarding his medical care, and the siblings fight over who should be running the business. As CEO, Logan’s refusal to make contingency plans isn’t just short-sighted—it’s irresponsible.
Having a clear (and clearly communicated) estate plan is critical to ensuring your wishes are honored long-term and your business can continue successful operations.
For example, establishing a medical directive that details your healthcare wishes and executing a power of attorney ensures everyone knows who gets to make decisions on your behalf.
Another issue the characters in Succession run into after Logan’s death occurs when they find a previous version of his will with some items crossed out and others penciled in. Even though he had a lifetime of access to top corporate lawyers, Logan’s still stashed potentially meaningful estate planning documents in a safe alongside random papers.
Not the best way to ensure the long-term health of a multi-billion-dollar empire.
In real life, this scenario wouldn’t just cause chaos for business operations. It would also expose your company and your family to a multitude of tax burdens and estate fees associated with the probate process.
Why you should work with a business and estate planning attorney
If you own a business and you haven’t started working with a business and estate planning attorney, you should hire one immediately.
A skilled business and estate lawyer can help you actualize the hopes you have for a lasting legacy. They can guide you as you create a succession plan, help you explain the plan to the senior leaders at your company, and ensure your documents stay updated over time.
They can also advise you on which asset-transfer vehicles will most benefit your beneficiaries. And if not all your children are part of your business, an estate planning attorney can help you find a way to ensure everyone is treated fairly in your will (if that’s what you want, of course).
Contact our team for help today
The team at Shann M. Chaudhry, Esq. has decades of combined experience helping our clients navigate the complexities of business succession and estate planning in Texas. Our in-depth understanding of state and federal laws allows us to maximize our clients’ confidence in their plans.
If you’re ready to start creating a succession plan that won’t land your family on HBO, contact us today.