Who does it apply to?

Succession Planning involves everyone. Whether it is planning for retirement or exit from your business or getting your ‘papers’ together for end of life, Succession Planning refers to both and is applicable at all ages.

While it may not be something that many people in their 30s or 40s may think of, being in the prime of their life, and it may not be on the top of their priority list, but it is something you need to consider. It’s important to decide what will happen to your assets when you die. I know when I was in my 20s, I thought I didn’t have assets, but when I went to a bank for a loan, I realised that I actually had quite a few assets. You need to consider how and to whom you should leave instructions about your legal and medical preferences in case you fall ill or lose the capacity to make those decisions yourself. If you have children, you should consider what provisions to make for their care or what you might want to do to help them. Therefore you should ensure that you have a valid and up-to-date Will and seek estate planning advice if appropriate.

For a business, a succession plan ensures there are qualified and motivated employees who are able to take over when the executive director or other key people leave and organisation. It also demonstrates to stakeholders (i.e. clients, funders, employees and volunteers) that the organisation is committed to and able to provide excellent programs and services at all time, including during times of transition. 

So, what is it? Why is it important?

An Estate Plan includes your Will as well as any other directions on how you want your assets distributed after your death. This includes documents that govern how you will be cared for, medically and financially, if you for whatever reason are unable to make your own decisions in the future.

With your business, whether you decide to sell up, retire or have to get out of business due to health reasons, it is important that you spend the time with your family and/or your business partners and plan what you are going to do. A succession (or sometimes called an ‘exit plan’) can help you outline what will happen and who will take over your business when you leave.

Your succession plan will depend on a number of factors, including your family situation, age, financial position and overall health. A good succession plan enables a smooth transition, with less likelihood of disruption to operations. By planning your exit well in advance you can maximise that value of your business and enable it to meet future needs. Please keep in mind that your succession plan must remain attainable – set a realistic timetable and measurable milestone along the way and stick to them. Even if you’re not planning on leaving your business just yet, it pays to have a detailed plan in place for when the time comes.

Another reason to focus on succession planning is the changing realities of workplaces. The impending retirement of the baby boomers is expected to have a major impact on workforce capacity.

Benefits of a good succession plan for your business

The benefits of good succession planning include:

  • Ensuring the organisation maintains a plan to support service continuity when the executive director, senior manager or any key people leave;
  • A continuing supply of qualified, motivated people (or how to identify them), who are prepared to take over when current senior staff and other key employees leave the organisation. This involves knowing your staff and knowing if you have someone to replace them;
  • Alignment between your organisation’s vision and human resources that demonstrates an understanding of the need to have appropriate staffing to achieve strategic plans;
  • A commitment to developing career paths for employees which will facilitate your organisation’s ability to recruit and retain top-performing employees and volunteers.


A will comes into effect after you pass away. It can cover things like how your assets will be shared, who will look after your children if they are still young, what trusts you want to be established, how much money you’d like donated to charities and even instructions about your funeral.

Your will can be written and updated by private trustees and solicitors, who usually charge a fee. Some Public Trustees will not charge to prepare or update your will, but only if they act as the executor of your will. Other Public Trustees may only exempt you from charges if you are a pensioner or aged over 60. Check with the Public Trustee in your state or territory.

Who is responsible for succession planning in my business?

Both the board and the executive director have pivotal roles to play in succession planning.

The board is responsible for succession planning for the executive director position. The board hires the executive director to ensure it has a skilled manager to implement the organisation’s mission and vision. It is therefore very important for boards to spend some time reflecting on what they would do if, or when, the executive director leaves. All too often, boards find that they are unprepared for such an occurrence and are left scrambling to replace them.

The executive director is responsible for ensuring a succession plan is in place for other key positions in the organisation. These will likely be developed with help from the management team with input from implicated employees. 

What do I need to do?

Identify key positions for your organisation. These include the executive director, senior management and other staff members who would, for their specialised skills or level of experience, be hard to replace. Which position would need to be filled almost immediately to ensure your organisation continues to function effectively?

Review and list your current and emerging needs.

Prepare a chart that identifies the key positions and individuals in the organisation. This may include those listed above as well as others that are pertinent to your organisation, such as volunteers or administrative personnel.

Pinpoint and list any gaps by asking questions:

  • Which individuals are slated or likely to leave (through retirement, project completion, etc.) and when?
  • Which new positions will be required to support the strategic plan?
  • Which positions have become or will become obsolete (for example, those related to a program that has been terminated)?
  • What skills and knowledge will need to be developed (for example, to support a new program)?

Evaluate/assess staff members who have the skills and knowledge or the potential as well as the desire to be promoted to existing and new positions. It is important to note if they have the desire to take any other role. It could be terrible for your business if you were to rely on someone ‘stepping up’ only to find they aren’t interested. 

Do you have any tips for successful succession planning?

As time passes, your circumstances will change and it is important to update your succession to ensure you are always ready, should the need arise that you leave earlier than anticipated.

You need to secure senior management and board support for a succession planning process. This shows employees and staff how important succession planning is to the organisation.

Again, review and update your succession plan regularly. This ensures you reassess your hiring needs and determine where the employees identified in the succession plan are in their development.

Develop procedure manuals for essential tasks carried out by key positions. Include step-by-step guidelines. Nothing worse than having a long-term or busy employee who leaves (for any reason) and most of the procedures were ‘in their head’. That makes the ‘scramble’ after the employee leaves so much worse.

Allow adequate time to prepare successors. The earlier they are identified, the easier it is on the individual to be advanced and on other employees within your organisation who will know whether certain options are available to them.

Final notes

Wills are just the same. You need to consider what you want to leave and to whom. Regularly check your will and make sure it is brought up to date. Ensure your family is aware of your wishes.

Communication is key to Succession and Exit Planning. You need to communicate with family, colleagues and all key staff members. You need to express to them what you want. Then get the plans drawn up (by a legal professional or by the Public Trustee).

All too often, a will has been drawn up but there are other issues that prevent the exiting person’s wishes from being following. These include not keeping documents up to date; not discussing it with anyone; the will being written up without professional advice (this includes having the will drawn up but the legal professional was not aware of all the circumstances).

Are you interested in getting your will and your succession plan decided started? For your free initial consultation contact us today, one of our friendly advisers would be delighted to speak with you.

Please note: The information provided in this article is general advice only. It has been prepared without taking into account any person’s individual objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on anything in this article you should consider its appropriateness to you, having regard to your objectives, financial situation and needs.