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The checklist: What to do before you launch

Partnering up for business requires legal and financial homework - especially if you're married. Here's what to keep in mind before signing on the dotted line.

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(FSB Magazine) -- "The risks may be far greater for couples than for noncouples," explains Mina Sirkin, a family-wealth lawyer in Woodland Hills, Calif. and business partner with her husband. Consider the following before making the big jump:

- Seek couples counseling. Just because spouses agree at home doesn't mean they'll agree at work. A therapist can help sort out issues of work ethics, revenue expectations, and general practices. For starters, the Family Business Institute offers questions online that family members should ask themselves before launching together.

- Draw up a post-nuptial agreement. It may sound as unpleasant as a prenup, but this pre-business contract protects the spouses not only in case of divorce but also from lawsuits and other unforeseen circumstances (debilitating injury, death) that could wipe out family assets. By dividing their personal wealth, couples will also ensure a smooth transfer of ownership should it be necessary.

- Check state inheritance laws. Depending on where you live and the nature of your business, it may be wise to split ownership right down the middle - or not. While 51 percent ownership by the wife may help win contracts, it may also lead to complications should the wife die and the husband desire full ownership, particularly if she has children from a previous marriage. That's why a will that covers the business partnership is so important, says Alan Cohn, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer.

- Start slowly. One spouse should keep his or her current job for the first few months, says Mark Ewing, vice president and commercial lender at Fox Chase Bank in Hatboro, Pa. The steady income will help with cash flow, as well as health insurance and loan applications. To top of page

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