Small business owners shouldn’t wait until they’re ready to sell their businesses to execute what is likely to be the most important transaction of their lives. They need to plan for the sale years in advance, say advisors and industry experts.

“If you wait until the moment there’s a sale, you are caught off guard and you’ve not optimized your estates, you’ve not optimized your taxes, you’ve not optimized gifting,” said Michael Ott, head of U.S. Bank’s Private Client Reserve, the bank’s high-net-worth wealth management unit.

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