What are your 'Way Out' options?

I had a wonderful life moment recently. Our 18-year-old son Max is all grown up. As a parent, my work is finished. Oh, I know he may not be all moved out. He will go off to college in the fall, and he may still find his way back to the homestead.

By grown up, I mean he made it to 18 with good values and a sense of humor. He is healthy in body, mind and spirit. And, as a good mother should, I have scarred him just enough to make him interesting.

I love kids. I love them at every age. With my son, my favorite age has always been whatever age he is. As he gets older, he gets more fun.

I tolerated endless Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video viewings when Max was in primary school. Now we actually like the same movies. After seeing “Adaptation,” we broke down every scene and talked about it for hours. We both read J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy before the movies came out, and compared page to screen.

We play extreme, no-holds-barred ping-pong. That's an upgrade from Hungry Hungry Hippo.

He and his friends are delightful. I love hanging out with them. They are quick-witted and goofy and chock full of energy. Wonderful young men and women, who have become so independent.

Yes, I love it that he is all grown up. I may - God willing - have grandmothering yet ahead of me. For right now, I am relishing in this wonderful life moment. My job as a mother is finished.

My job as a daughter is just beginning.

Hot Rod, Max and I moved to Missouri in 1995. Back in Utah, my dad retired not long after that. You know how it is with parents - that “Lion King” circle of life thing. The first half of life is about expanding your capacity; the second half is a struggle to hang on to it. So, as my son grows independent, my parents become more dependent.

Once Papu retired, he started to get more forgetful. I sold him and Yai Yai on moving out to our place. I promised my sisters and my brother that the folks could live out their lives with us on Know It All Lane. Hot Rod, bless his heart, renovated the barn and created a lovely home for them. He was farsighted enough to make the doorways extra wide and the shower wheelchair accessible. Both of them are fit as fiddles, but they are, well, not getting any younger.

Papu has settled into a routine. He is responsible for winged visitors and quadruped inhabitants. He makes sure the bird feeders are full and the dog bowls watered. He is a champion weed puller. And he asks the same darn questions about a hundred times a day. It's particularly challenging for Yai Yai. It's a challenge not to preface every response with, “I already told you ...”

I love having my parents so close. It is the natural order of things. I may have a good number of years before the real caretaking kicks in. For now, it's just a matter of checking in and making sure. We are the sandwich generation, sandwiched between growing kids and growing-older parents.

What is weird is talking about what they want to have happen as they get older. It is a better plan to have all the DNR and care-giving requests discussed before you get old, because, gosh, it is just so darn hard to bring it up then. And how to assign keepsakes and family jewelry? You want to do the right thing, but avoid bringing it up because it sounds like you are hurrying them into the grave. So, you put off having the discussion.

You can relate, can't you? It's tough. You know what makes this situation even weirder? When you are in business together.

Finding A Way Out

There are only a few ways to exit the plumbing business.
    No. 1 Way Out - Death or debilitating illness. The owner just can't do it anymore.

    No. 2 Way Out - Shut it down. The owner gets so sick and tired of it that he just closes the doors and disconnects the phone.

    No. 3 Way Out - Enslave the children. See below.

    No. 4 Way Out - Attempt to sell … then move to Way Out No. 3, No. 2 or No. 1.

Here's the key to planning a “Way Out” and putting it to action: Start now. This involves crafting a vision, strategy and plan for your company that will create transferable wealth and flexible exit options. This means being able to exit your company at will, realizing wealth for the seller and continued profitability for the new owner (may be a child, may be an investor). Very few plumbers pull this off.

Regarding the No. 3 Way Out (Enslave the children): - Enslave the children. This is available to plumbers who have borne progeny who had no better option than to join the family business. While most family businesses are kooky - no doubt! - there are a few highly functioning family businesses. This exit path may be a good or tolerable option for the parents. The children may agree to the enslavement. However, it is not necessarily a good option for the children or the company.

    vi•a•ble \ 'vi-e-bel \ adj 1: capable of living: capable of surviving outside the mother's womb without artificial support. 2: capable of growing and developing. 3: capable of being put into practice: WORKABLE. 4: having a reasonable chance of succeeding.

When The Company Is Viable

A successful business may be a blessing to the next generation. Still, it is vital to create a company that is saleable to someone other than the children.

The more successful the company becomes, the fewer buyers there are. For instance, a plumbing company with $10 million in sales and 10 percent profitability may be valued at $5 million - or more - by a business broker. The challenge is, who would buy it? An investor with $5 million in cash may want a less risky, higher return on his or her investment.

It is necessary to plan the exit path because, either in your lifetime or another's, things happen. Because illness, injury or death can enter the path. Because there may come a time when the owner - or his child - is just sick and tired of it. A successful business can enslave the children.

When The Company Is Not Viable

This is when it gets really tragic. I've lost count of the sad tales I've heard with this story line. Dad works for 50 years in the truck. Mom does the books and answers the phone. Junior is enticed into the business with the promise/threat that some day, “This will all be yours.”

Junior starts out certain, through youth and blessed enthusiasm, that he will drive the company down a different, prosperous, enjoyable path. Dad sees his path coming to an end and negotiates a sale price with his son. The price? His continuing salary.

The problem with this is that the company wasn't profitable before Dad retired. Now the double whammy hits. The payroll expense for Dad is not offset by what he was creating in revenue. Ouch.

Is it a parent's obligation to care for their children until they become independent - or at least of an age and capacity that would allow independence? Yes. Is it a child's responsibility to care for their parents as they become dependent? Yes.

Even if your parents did not plan for their retirement, you may choose to invite them to spend it with you. However, you don't have to take on the company. And you don't have to pay them a salary.

You can expand your own options by crafting a vision for your life, and acting on a plan to make it materialize. Money provides levels of independence that poverty does not. Money buys options.

It is hard to talk about the DNR orders and long-term care issues. It's hard to address the family business transition. The alternative, not talking about it, is sure to cause even more pain. It's time to have those discussions, with our aging parents and with our growing kids.

At some point money doesn't count anymore. Handle the money and the Way Out before the time comes. When all that's needed is someone to hold your hand.