Key Person Planning

Key Man Clause: Explained for Business Owners

June 13, 2024
 min read
CEO, Capital for Life

Key Man Clause: Explained for Business Owners

Understanding the ‘key man clause’ is critical for any individual involved in a business where specific team members are integral to operations. Essentially, this clause acts as a risk management tool, inserted into contracts to ensure that if a pivotal team member becomes unavailable, the business and its investors have a safety net in place.

But what exactly triggers a key man clause? And what are its implications for your business and investment?

This article explains the key man clause and its strategic importance in business.

Key Takeaways

  • Key man clauses are contractual safeguards designed to protect companies from the absence of key individuals.
  • A key man clause maintains the operational and strategic continuity of a business if a key person in not available to make a critical business decision. It allows the delegation of important decisions to only the most senior and equipped executives.
  • A key man clause is different from key person insurance, which provides a financial payout,
  • A well-crafted key man clause requires careful identification of indispensable personnel, a clear trigger event definition, and a robust replacement plan to ensure business continuity and uphold investor confidence.

Key Man Clauses

The absence of key decision-makers in any business can spell disaster. This is where key man clauses can help provide critical business continuity. These contractual clauses act as a safeguard, preventing businesses from making key decisions or starting new ventures should one or more key individuals become unavailable. A key man clause helps reassure investors about the stability of the firm and ensures qualified decision-makers are in place.

Key Man Clause Definition*: A key man clause, also known as a key person clause, is a contractual provision designed to protect businesses, partnerships, and investors from the financial and operational risks associated with the unexpected loss of key personnel. These “key people” are individuals whose skills, knowledge, or leadership are essential to the organisation’s success.*

Identifying Your Key Persons

Identifying key persons is a pivotal step in structuring the key person clause. These are key executives who are indispensable to a business operation - their absence would be more than just inconvenient; it could bring vital processes to a standstill. These roles aren’t limited to the CEO or CFO of a business. Key people for a business can include sales directors, product development specialists, key operations members or even fund managers and private equity executives in different businesses.

By identifying these key decision-makers and preparing contract clauses, firms ensure that succession and operational continuity are accounted for.

Key Man Clause Example

An example of how a key man sample clause may be included in company documentation,

Key Man Provision. X XXX is considered an integral part of the Company's operations (a “Key Man”). If Xx. Xxxxxx were to leave the Manager, die, or become permanently disabled, the Manager’s ability to continue the management of the Company could be materially and adversely affected. Upon the death or permanent disability of Xx. Xxxxxx, the other listed Key People shall have the right to approve a replacement Key Person by majority vote for a period of up to one year. If no replacement Key Person is appointed by the remaining Key People within the maximum one year period, the Company, shall permanently cease to make Strategic Decisions or new investments or acquisitions.


Key Man Replacement Plan

A Key Man replacement plan should include:

  • Immediate Actions: Appointing an interim leader to fill the gap of the missing key person and keep operations running smoothly, and appointing replacement key executives to fulfill the obligations of key principals.
  • Appointment and Approval: Appointing and approving new replacement key executives to replace key principals who fail to devote a specific amount of time to the partnership, allowing the resumption of investments.
  • Recruitment Strategy: A detailed plan for finding and hiring a qualified successor.
  • Training and Onboarding: Ensuring the new key person is integrated into the company culture and understands their role.
  • Funding: If needed, the plan can outline how key man insurance proceeds will be used to cover recruitment, training, and other transition costs.

By having a well-thought-out replacement plan, your business can navigate the loss of a key person with minimal disruption, ensuring the continued success and growth of your company.

Key Man Clause vs. Key Person Insurance

A key man clause and key person insurance work hand-in-hand to safeguard your business when a key employee is no longer able to contribute.

Key Man Clause: This is a contractual agreement, often found in employment contracts or partnership agreements, that outlines specific actions to take if a key person leaves, becomes critically ill, or dies. These actions can include buying back company shares, paying out compensation, or enforcing non-compete clauses. The goal is to ensure the business can continue operating smoothly and protect the interests of other stakeholders.

Key Person Insurance: This is a life insurance policy taken out by a company on the life of a key employee. If the key person dies or becomes critically ill, the insurance payout provides a financial cushion to help the company cover expenses, find a replacement, and stabilise operations during the transition.

The key man clause and key person insurance are most effective when used together. The clause outlines the strategic steps the business will take in the event of a key person's loss, while the insurance provides the financial means to execute those steps.

In summary:

Key Man Clause: The plan to protect the business.

Key Person Insurance: The money to fund the plan.

By having both in place, you can create a comprehensive safety net for your business, ensuring its survival and success even in the face of unexpected setbacks.

Impact on Investor Confidence

Key man clauses signal to investors that safeguards are in place to ensure business continuity, which is important in maintaining investor confidence, especially in the event of losing any key executives.

Key Man Clauses for Different Industries

Key man clauses can be used to fit the unique needs of different industries including:

  • Technology businesses
  • Industrial companies
  • Service-based businesses
  • Private equity groups
  • Venture capital organisations
  • Hedge funds
  • Mutual funds
  • Startups
  • Investment firms
  • Mutual fund companies
  • Venture capital organizations

Each industry has its own needs and priorities, meaning clauses must be adaptable to ensure consistent business practices.

Key Man Clauses and Key Man Insurance Compensation

Key man clauses and key man insurance policies can provide businesses a comprehensive financial and operational safety net. While the clause ensures continuity and strategic direction during personnel changes, key man insurance offers financial support to minimise the impact of such losses.

This insurance is tailored to cover individuals whose roles are critical to a company’s profit generation, such as top salespeople or those with specialised expertise, providing smaller firms with the necessary financial support during transitions.

Calculating Key Man Insurance Coverage

Calculating the insurance coverage for key individuals requires a clear assessment of their contribution to company profits and an assessment of the coverage amount needed to protect the business. The coverage amount can be determined using:

  • a multiple of the key person’s compensation
  • estimating the loss to the business in the event of their absence due to death or disability
  • the replacement cost method, which factors in recruitment, training, and lost revenue
  • the contributions to earnings method which considers profit contribution and the time needed to train a successor.

Insurance policies can also be bolstered with riders for additional benefits, such as disability or critical illness payouts, ensuring the company remains operational during challenging times.


A key man clause is a critical wording set for any business reliant on key executives. A suitable clause should be enshrined in company documentation, clearly outlining the procedures to follow if a key individual becomes unavailable. By combining a key man clause with a key man insurance policy, businesses create a strategic framework to navigate key executive transitions, whilst life insurance offers financial security to cover costs associated with recruitment, training, and potential lost revenue.

To protect your business and its future, consider implementing a key man clause and getting a quote for key man insurance today.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a Key Man Clause and How Does it Protect Businesses?

A key man clause is a contractual provision designed to safeguard a business from the potential disruption caused by the loss of a key employee. This clause typically outlines specific actions to be taken if a key individual becomes unavailable due to death, disability, or departure from the company. These actions can include restrictions on new investments, buyout agreement provisions, or succession planning requirements.

By incorporating a key man clause into contracts and agreements, businesses can ensure continuity of operations, protect shareholder interests, and maintain investor confidence even in the face of unexpected leadership changes.

What Events Typically Trigger a Key Man Clause?

Key man clauses are typically triggered by specific events that significantly impact a key person's ability to fulfil their role within the company. These triggering events can include:

  • Death: The death of a key person is an unfortunate but common trigger for key man clauses.
  • Disability: If a key person becomes disabled and unable to perform their duties, the clause may be activated.
  • Departure from the Company: This could include resignation, termination, or retirement of the key person.
  • Other Specified Events: Some clauses may include additional triggers, such as a criminal conviction or a change in the key person's ownership stake in the company.

Once a triggering event occurs, the provisions outlined in the key man clause come into effect. These provisions may include suspending new investments, initiating buyout procedures, or requiring the implementation of a succession plan. The specific actions taken depend on the terms agreed upon in the contract.

Key Man Clause vs. Key Person Insurance: What's the Difference and How do they Work Together?

While both key man clauses and key person insurance address the risks associated with losing a key employee, they function in distinct ways:

  • Key Man Clause: This is a contractual agreement that outlines specific procedures and actions to be taken if a key individual becomes unavailable. These actions might include restrictions on new business activities, provisions for share buyouts, or the implementation of a succession plan. The key man clause focuses on maintaining operational stability and decision-making continuity during a period of transition.
  • Key Person Insurance: This is a type of life insurance policy that a company takes out on the life of a key employee. If the insured key person dies or becomes critically ill, the insurance payout provides a financial cushion to the company. This money can cover the costs of recruiting and training a replacement, offset lost revenue, and stabilize the business during the transition period.

How they work together:

Key man clauses and key person insurance are most effective when used in tandem. The key man clause provides a strategic roadmap for navigating the operational challenges caused by the loss of a key person, while key person insurance provides the financial resources to implement that roadmap. Together, they form a comprehensive risk management strategy, ensuring that a business can continue to thrive even after the unexpected loss of a key employee.

Key Man Clause Succession Planning: What Should a Replacement Plan Include?

A robust replacement plan is an essential component of a key man clause. It should outline a clear and comprehensive strategy for addressing the sudden loss of a key individual, minimising disruption, and ensuring business continuity. A well-prepared replacement plan typically includes the following elements:

  1. Immediate Actions:
    • Interim Leadership: Identifying and appointing an interim leader who can step in to manage the key person's responsibilities.
    • Communication Strategy: Develop a plan to communicate the situation to employees, stakeholders, and clients, maintaining transparency and reassurance.
  2. Recruitment and Selection:
    • Candidate Profile: Clearly define the qualifications, skills, and experience required for the replacement.
    • Search Strategy: Outlining the methods for identifying and attracting qualified candidates, whether through internal promotions, external recruitment agencies, or networking.
  3. Onboarding and Training:
    • Transition Plan: Creating a structured plan to integrate the new key person into the company culture and their specific role.
    • Training and Development: Providing resources and support for the new person to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed as a replacement.
  4. Financial Considerations:
    • Compensation and Benefits: Establishing a competitive compensation package to attract and retain top talent.
    • Key Person Insurance: Utilizing the proceeds from key person insurance to fund recruitment, training, and other transitional costs.

By having a well-defined replacement plan in place, businesses can minimise the negative impact of losing a key person, ensure a smooth transition, and maintain their competitive edge in the market.

Are Key Man Clauses Adaptable to Different Industries?

Key man clauses are highly customisable and can be tailored to fit various industries' unique needs and risk profiles. While the core principle of protecting a business from the loss of a key individual remains the same, the specific provisions and triggers within the clause can vary significantly.

For example:

  • Technology companies may focus on key personnel with specialised technical skills or proprietary knowledge.
  • Financial institutions might prioritise individuals responsible for risk management or regulatory compliance.
  • Creative agencies could emphasise key creatives or executives with unique client relationships.
  • Startups might focus on founders or early employees with irreplaceable vision and expertise.

By tailoring key man clauses to their specific circumstances, businesses in any industry can ensure they have the right protections in place to navigate the challenges posed by the unexpected loss of a key individual.

Secure your business's future with Capital for Life. As a leading global life insurance broker specialising in Key Man Insurance, we partner with financial advisors, tax advisers, lawyers, and wealth managers to provide expert guidance to businesses and high-net-worth individuals in over 220 countries. Safeguard your company's continuity and financial stability by incorporating a Key Man Clause into your business agreements and complementing it with our tailored Key Man Insurance solutions. Contact us today to explore how we can help protect your most valuable assets and ensure your business thrives even in the face of unexpected events.


This article is authored by Carlton Crabbe, Chief Executive Officer of Capital for Life, a specialist indexed universal life insurance broker. The information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial or investment advice. While the author possesses expertise in the subject matter, readers are advised to consult with a qualified financial advisor before making any investment decisions or purchasing any life insurance products.

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