You can sense the pride of a father as he talks about his son or daughter who has made the commitment to follow in his footsteps by pursuing the same career as Dad. What could be more flattering than having a child who wants to emulate his/her father to this extent? The son or daughter will, of course, be expected to join the practice, and “Dad” just can’t wait to introduce him/her to his patients.

Then you ask the big question, “Do you intend on selling your practice to your son or daughter?” The usual response is, “Of course not, I will give him the practice when I retire!” And so begin the problems.

Many dentists say they intend to give the practice to that son/daughter, and I want to share some of their experiences with you. Not all of the following happened to one doctor, but they all happened just the same. If you are not yet completely entrenched in this line of thinking, here is some food for thought.

One doctor gave his practice to his son when he retired (it was worth about $750,000). He had three other children besides the son who was given the practice. The other children were outraged that one sibling received such a valuable asset (the $750,000 practice) and they received nothing in kind. The siblings are still not talking to each other, nor to mom and dad. It pulled the family apart.

What should doctor/dad have done? Dad should have sold the practice to his son. He could have given the son some great sale terms, but it was an injustice to the other children to have been excluded from the value of the practice that could have been derived from its sale. The practice value should have been divided among all the children (through the estate) following the doctor’s death. In addition to that, Dad might have needed that money (from the sale of the practice) to support himself following retirement. Doctors do not know how long they will live or their financial requirements following retirement, so every dollar counts.

Another doctor had his son join the practice. The son had his own ideas of how and what treatment should be rendered, and they differed from Dad’s ideas. Dad was from the old school. Exposing his son to his work (on the patients) made Dad vulnerable and seem more human. The son wanted to prove that he was a better doctor than Dad was, and he began criticizing Dad’s work. Dad was no longer the “best” doctor in the world, as every family wants to believe. Things deteriorated from there. Real dentistry is not taught in an academic environment. Having your work critiqued by a recent graduate who could take an hour and a half to complete an occlusal amalgam can be a trying experience. Most doctor/dads would not want their work reviewed and critiqued by their own children.

Another doctor had his son join the practice. Doctor/Dad had intended to practice another ten years. However, there were not enough patients in the practice for two doctors. Doctor/dad thought that in time the practice would grow at a rate sufficient to support them both. It didn’t happen. The son wanted all the new patients that came into the practice, and before long doctor/dad was not busy. Pretty soon the son was asking dad when he was going to retire. Dad was no longer earning enough money to retire. Now they were competing with each other for patients, and neither one was speaking to the other.

If your practice is not grossing at least $1,000,000, and if you are not ready to slow down and practice only a couple of days a week, then having your son join your practice will be a disaster. Should you even consider selling your practice to your offspring? Do you want your work critiqued and your treatment questioned when patients are seen by you both? What will you do when you discover that your treatment philosophy is different? Professional disagreements can lead to arguments that go beyond the scope of the practice. This can result in the breakdown of what would otherwise have been a good, healthy family relationship.

And think of your son or daughter’s perspective. We have seen many difficult situations develop when a young doctor joins the father’s practice. The young doctor is always considered to be the “junior doctor” by the staff and the patients… and never equal to doctor/dad. The patients question junior’s recommended treatment and often ask, “Are you sure your father would approve of this?’ Before you know it, junior can’t wait to get dad out of the practice, so he/she is the primary provider.

Now that you understand that it is only fair to all your children that your son/daughter buys your practice, then take it a step further; let your son/daughter buy someone else’s practice instead of yours. If you want to help, you can finance the down payment for that other practice. If he/she buys another practice, then he/she will be immediately recognized as the “doctor” (not junior) by the patients of that practice. His/her professional judgment is not going to be questioned by another doctor’s patients in the same way that your patients will. He/she will not be “junior” for the next ten or twenty years.

If you help your child buy another practice, you will be doing him/her a real favor. You’ll do yourself a favor too by not ever having your philosophy, methods of treatment and results ever being questioned by your children. You will not have to lower your earnings because you are trying to share your annual income with your child. And when the time is right, you will realize the full value of your practice and have those funds available to enhance your “golden years” of retirement. Then someday the remaining money will be divided by all of your children and not just one family member.

The choice is never an easy one to make, and perhaps we can help if you would like to arrange for a consultation with you and your son/daughter. We can go into more detail about the considerations of joining your practice, and we can discuss alternatives. It could make it easier on everyone. Call AFTCO at 800-232-3826 or visit our website at www.aftco.net. It’s time to call AFTCO!

Print this Article