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How to protect your dental practice: Key steps in retirement planning

March 5, 2024
You may think running your dental practice should take precedence over planning for retirement, but it’s important to outline a succession plan before you need one. Here are four key steps you need to know about selling a dental practice.

Dentists considering retirement may think they’re too busy to stop and think about a succession plan. Whether a sole proprietor or a co-owner with other dentists, dental professionals should outline a succession plan before they need one. Planning ahead ensures business continuity and benefits the practice owner as well as the staff and patients. Factors that weigh into a dentist’s decision to retire include age, health, personal goals, and the financial health of the practice.

A key step is to plan for various scenarios and engage a team that includes tax, legal, and financial professionals for drafting buy-sell agreements if needed when the time comes.

Dentists should have a clear idea of the sale price of their practice, the structure of the sale, and what their goals are for their next chapter in life. Clarity can keep you from getting too far down the road to sell and find out you can’t meet your retirement goals or wind up in an unfavorable tax situation after a deal is executed. Having goals and clear plans to reach them can provide confidence when planning for your financial future.

4 key steps to selling a dental practice ...

Step 1: Decide when to sell

When is it the wrong time to sell? When is it the right time? While it’s a personal decision based on goals and desired time frame, dentists shouldn’t feel rushed. What does an ideal exit look like? If you own a building, would you include that in a sale or keep it? Spend some time with your wealth team to get a clear picture of which factors you may or may not have considered.

If you are five to 10 years away from selling, consider engaging a wealth team to give you an idea of what your practice is worth and how you can improve its value before a buyer is even identified.

Step 2: Consider the tax implications

Your tax advisor should understand your practice and the mechanics of the sale. If you wait to work with a tax advisor until after the sale, many options to minimize your taxes may already be off the table. Planning ahead will help you understand the consequences of the sale and offer favorable options for structuring it.

Step 3: Define a retirement package

Your dental practice is likely your largest asset, so be sure to engage a financial planner as early as possible. A planner can help guide the process, including how to structure sale proceeds and estimating what you need from the sale to fulfill your retirement goals.

Step 4: Plan next steps

Think ahead about how you want to help transition the practice to the buyer in a way that helps both patients and the buyer get comfortable with one another. No matter what your specific financial and tax pictures look like, it’s important to take these planning steps in advance of selling a practice or a stake in the practice. That’s just good business, all the while looking out for patients and their staff who have trusted you over the years. 

Editor's note: This article appeared in the March 2024 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

As a senior wealth advisor for Mariner Wealth Advisors, Natalie Haggard, CFP, provides wealth advice for executives of public and private companies, retirees, business owners, and families to help them reach their goals. She began her career at Adams Hall, which was later acquired by Mariner Wealth Advisors. Natalie has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and public relations and a master’s degree in business administration, both from Oklahoma State University.

Andrew Loving, CPA, is a director of tax planning and preparation for Mariner Wealth Advisors. His primary focus is providing tax services to clients including preparation and review of tax returns, tax planning, and tax consulting. Previously he was a tax manager with Grant Thornton, LLP. His background includes work with partnership, corporate, and individual clients. Andrew is a member of the American Institute of CPAs as well as the Oklahoma Society of CPAs.

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