Shareholders Agreements: Everything You Need to Know in Australia in 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Definition and Importance: Understand what a Shareholders Agreement is and why it is crucial for business partnerships.
  • Components: Learn about the essential elements to include in a Shareholders Agreement.
  • Legal Binding: Grasp the legal status of these agreements in Australia.
  • Costs and Deductions: Explore the costs associated with drafting Shareholders Agreements and tax implications.
  • Amendments and Absence: Know how to amend these agreements and the risks of not having one.
  • Dispute Resolution: Discover the advantages of having a Shareholders Agreement in resolving disputes.

Introduction: Why Prioritise a Shareholders Agreement?

Starting a business involves many costs, but one of the most critical investments you should consider early is drafting a robust Shareholders Agreement. This agreement serves as a foundational document that guides the relationship between business partners and manages expectations. Prioritising this expense can prevent costly disputes and ensure business stability over the long-term.

What is a Shareholders Agreement?

A Shareholders Agreement is a formal document that outlines the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of each shareholder in a company. It includes provisions for the management and operational procedures of the business and helps protect the interests of all shareholders, ensuring that their rights are upheld and responsibilities clearly defined.

What is the Purpose of a Shareholders Agreement?

The primary purpose of a Shareholders Agreement is to ensure that all shareholders are on the same page regarding the company's operation and management. It helps prevent conflicts by clearly outlining procedures for common issues, such as the transfer of shares, decision-making processes, and dispute resolution mechanisms.

Shareholder Agreement in Australia

In Australia, while not legally mandatory, having a Shareholders Agreement is highly recommended. Australian law respects these agreements, providing they are well-drafted and comply with the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth). They must also not contradict the company's constitution.

What Should Be in a Shareholders Agreement?

Essential elements of a Shareholders Agreement include:

  • Share Ownership: Defines who owns shares and in what proportions.
  • Governance: Outlines how decisions are made, including voting rights and meeting protocols.
  • Financial Arrangements: Details dividends, funding, and financial management.
  • Director Appointments: Specifies who can appoint directors and how.
  • Exit Strategies: Covers scenarios such as death, disability, or voluntary exit of shareholders.

Shareholder Agreement Format

The format of a Shareholders Agreement should be clear and organized, often starting with a declaration followed by detailed sections addressing various aspects of the agreement such as rights, responsibilities, and specific provisions for managing changes and resolving disputes.

Are Legal Fees for Shareholders Agreement Tax Deductible in Australia?

Legal fees incurred in drafting a Shareholders Agreement are generally considered capital expenses. They are not immediately deductible but can be amortised over the life of the asset—the agreement itself.


You should, however, consult your Accountant to make sure you get specific advice for your circumstances.

How Much Does a Shareholders Agreement Cost?

Blaze Business & Legal offers several options for drafting a Shareholders Agreement:

  • Template: $800 (excluding GST)
  • Tailored Version: $1,500 (excluding GST)
  • Complex Arrangement: Starting at $2,000 (excluding GST)


Is a Shareholders Agreement Legally Binding?

Yes, in Australia, a properly executed Shareholders Agreement is legally binding. It must be agreed upon by all parties and executed correctly to be enforceable under the law.

Can a Shareholders Agreement be Amended?

A Shareholders Agreement can be amended if all shareholders agree to the changes. The process for amendments should be outlined in the original agreement to facilitate smooth modifications.

What Happens if There is No Shareholders Agreement?

Without a Shareholders Agreement, shareholders are subject to default rules under the Corporations Act, which may not suit individual business needs. This can lead to disputes and operational inefficiencies.

How Can I Resolve a Dispute With My Business Partner?

Having a Shareholders Agreement significantly aids in dispute resolution by providing agreed-upon procedures for handling conflicts. This can include mediation, arbitration, or other methods outlined in the agreement, helping to resolve issues amicably and efficiently.


Conclusion

A well-crafted Shareholders Agreement is an invaluable tool for any business partnership in Australia. It serves not only as a legal framework to govern the relationship between shareholders but also as a proactive measure to manage and mitigate potential disputes.


By clearly defining the roles, responsibilities, and expectations of all parties involved, such agreements ensure that the business operates smoothly and efficiently. For business owners, investing in a comprehensive Shareholders Agreement should be seen as a crucial step in safeguarding the future of the company, fostering a stable business environment, and enhancing the overall success of the venture.


Whether you are starting a new business or seeking to strengthen an existing one, prioritising the creation of a robust Shareholders Agreement is an important step to take.


FAQs about Shareholder's Agreements

1. Why should I invest in a Shareholders Agreement?

Investing in a Shareholders Agreement provides a framework for managing business relationships and decisions, helping prevent conflicts and ensuring smooth operations.


2. What are the risks of not having a Shareholders Agreement?

The risks of not having a Shareholders Agreement include potential disputes, unclear roles, and decision-making processes that can lead to operational inefficiencies and legal challenges.


3. How do I choose the right template or service for drafting a Shareholders Agreement?

Choosing the right template or service for drafting a Shareholders Agreement involves considering the complexity of your business structure and specific needs, consulting legal professionals for tailored advice.


4. What are the tax implications of shareholder contributions?


Tax implications of shareholder contributions can vary. Generally, initial contributions are not taxable events, but any benefit derived from them, like dividends, may be taxable. We are not Tax Advisers however, so please seek advice on this issue for your specific circumstances.


5. Can shareholders sell their shares without an agreement?

Shareholders may sell their shares according to the rules set out in the company’s constitution or any applicable shareholders agreement, which may require the consent of other shareholders.


6. How does a Shareholders Agreement protect minority shareholders?

A Shareholders Agreement protects minority shareholders by ensuring their rights and interests are considered in company decisions, often providing mechanisms to prevent their marginalisation.


7. What is the role of a director vs. a shareholder?

Directors manage the day-to-day operations and make strategic business decisions, whereas shareholders own parts of the company and vote on major decisions as outlined in the Shareholders Agreement.


8. How are dividends decided and distributed?

Dividends are decided by the board of directors and distributed according to the shareholding percentages and any specific provisions in the Shareholders Agreement or company constitution.


9. What happens to shares when a shareholder dies?

When a shareholder dies, their shares are generally transferred according to their will or estate plan, as well as any terms specified in the Shareholders Agreement regarding succession.


10. How often should we review and update our Shareholders Agreement?

Reviewing and updating a Shareholders Agreement should occur whenever there are significant changes in the company’s structure, shareholder relationships, or legal requirements.


11. What are the implications of adding new shareholders?

Adding new shareholders involves adjusting share allocations and possibly amending existing agreements to accommodate new roles, responsibilities, and investment terms.


12. How can a Shareholders Agreement limit the power of directors?

A Shareholders Agreement can limit the power of directors by specifying approval requirements for certain decisions and establishing checks and balances through shareholder voting.


13. Can a shareholder be removed and under what circumstances?

A shareholder can be removed under circumstances typically outlined in the Shareholders Agreement, such as breach of agreement terms, misconduct, or mutual consent among shareholders. We specialise in combining a Shareholders Agreement and Directors Agreement, to maximise the protection available to a company or a particular person.


14. What are the key differences between a Shareholders Agreement and a company's constitution?

Key differences between a Shareholders Agreement and a company's constitution include the level of detail regarding operational decisions and specific shareholder arrangements that are not typically covered in a constitution.


15. How does bankruptcy of a shareholder affect the business?

The bankruptcy of a shareholder can impact the business by potentially forcing the sale of shares to satisfy creditors, unless otherwise restricted by the company’s Shareholders Agreement.


16. What legal support should I seek in drafting a Shareholders Agreement?

Seeking legal support in drafting a Shareholders Agreement should involve consulting with attorneys who specialize in corporate law and understand the specific needs of your business sector.


17. Are digital signatures valid on Shareholders Agreements in Australia?

Digital signatures on Shareholders Agreements are recognised as valid and legally binding in Australia, provided they meet the requirements under the Electronic Transactions Act.

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About the Author

Rachelle Hare

Rachelle Hare - Managing Director and Principal Practitioner of Blaze Business & Legal

Rachelle Hare

Rachelle Hare is a highly experienced Construction Lawyer and Contract Lawyer, with over 23 years of experience in Tier 1 and Tier 2 Construction Firms, Top Tier Private Practice and Government.

With 23+ years of experience as a Senior Lawyer, Strategic Contracting Adviser and Management Consultant in Construction Law, Contracts, Major Projects, Commercial Advisory, Compliance, Procurement, Contract Management and Risk Management, Rachelle has the rare skills to offer you seamless business advice and legal advice to help support your organisation.


As well as a Lawyer and Business Adviser, Rachelle has also acted as a Strategic Procurement Adviser, Compliance Manager, Strategic Risk Adviser and Commercial Manager.

Rachelle owns
Blaze Business & Legal, a combined Commercial Law Firm and Business Advisory Firm located in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Blaze Business & Legal assists a broad range of clients in the Construction Industry and related industries, and advises owners, contractors, subcontractors, NFPs and other organisations on a broad range of Construction Law, Commercial Law, Business Advisory and Management Consulting issues in Brisbane, Queensland and around Australia.

Rachelle also owns Blaze Professional Learning, where she offers practical contracting skills, hands-on experience in drafting and working with contracts, and industry insights to help Professionals upskill and advance their careers with real-world skills.


And Rachelle owns Brisbane Livewell Clinic, an Allied Health, Natural Therapies and Wellness Clinic in Wavell Heights and Cannon Hill.

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