Purchasing a Business: Asset Purchases and Liability

Kanata CA personal injury, family, and real estate law firm

BY: ROBERT ALLAN

This week’s Reader asks: I am negotiating to purchase a business and my business advisor has strongly suggested I structure the deal as an “asset purchase”. Why is this preferable?

There are two principal ways to structure the agreement of purchase and sale of a business:as an asset purchase or as a share purchase. An asset purchase is just that, a purchase of listed assets without taking on liabilities of the business. A share purchase, by contrast, is the purchase of the shares of the corporation that carries on the business and owns the assets. There are a number of considerations as to which form of purchase is preferable. In this article, we want to focus on why your advisor has strongly recommended an asset purchase.

Liability

A properly structured asset purchase agreement will allow you to purchase all of the desirable assets of the business you wish to acquire while leaving out the unwanted liabilities.

Your advisor has likely identified the business as one either by its nature or by the disclosure you’ve obtained in which there are significant potential liabilities that may be avoided through an asset purchase agreement. For example, if the owner of the business has been pocketing cash payments or using corporate assets for personal use, the business may be exposed to re-assessments and penalties by the Canada Revenue Agency. A purchase of shares would mean that you, through the purchased corporation, are exposed to those claims.

Exceptions

There are some exceptions to the avoidance of liability by an asset purchase. For instance, if the purchased business employed unionized labour, a collective agreement and any ongoing liabilities thereunder will follow the purchased business, even if structured as an asset purchase. Your legal counsel can assist you to identify and understand the relevant risks and how to avoid them where possible or otherwise obtain protection.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This publication is the 30th installment of our firm’s Legal Matters series, which answers a reader’s question every week.  If you have a general legal question that you would like to have addressed please send it via email to legalmatters@compellingcounsel.com.