Planning for your company's and your family's life without you is not something many entrepreneurs want to do. (See "Putting Off for Tomorrow . . . ," [Article link].) But since it's even more important than eating your spinach, we asked Rod Burkley, founding partner of Torrance, Calif., law firm Burkley, Greenberg, Fields & Whitcombe, to describe the essential safeguards he recommends for every business owner:

? Exit planning. "This is a highfalutin name for retirement planning," to Burkley's way of thinking. That means the earlier you get started, the better. But if you haven't gotten started, here's what you need to do (with help from your corporate accountant, lawyer, and personal financial adviser). "Work out a plan for how you'll structure your personal and business finances so that you'll ultimately be able to withdraw from your company and still retain the lifestyle you want," says Burkley. That will involve diversifying assets away from the company and planning how to invest them to guarantee yourself the income stream you want at retirement.

? Estate planning. We all know what this consists of -- at least in theory. Beyond drawing up a will and getting some life insurance, the time to start serious estate planning (with an eye toward tax minimization) is when your company and other assets gain value beyond the $600,000 gift- and estate-tax exclusion for each person. "Then revisit your estate plan anytime there's a significant change in the tax laws, your family situation, or the condition of your business," Burkley advises.

? Succession planning. "You need a team to help you with this -- your accountant, your lawyer, your key managers, even your spouse," urges Burkley. "Plan here for whoever will take over your company after you're gone. That means not just naming names but preparing for how people will begin to ready themselves for new responsibilities."

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