The early thinking that goes into transition planning also can help eliminate many of the stresses that life-altering events can create. Divorces can often turn messy and leave a company in financial ruins if the shares are purchased with mixed money. You don't have to look far to find stories of such disasters.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, the storied baseball franchise, have become the laughing stock of the sports world over the past year due to the financial ruin wrought by the divorce between owner Frank McCourt and his wife, Jamie. The team filed for bankruptcy protection a few months ago after rumors swirled it might not be able to pay its players.

While the Dodgers may be a prominent example, it ultimately isn't much different than what can happen when the husband and wife running a construction supply company decide to split, or a child who is in line to take over gets involved in a nasty divorce.

Stier Supply of Irmo, S.C., is set up so that if one of owner Jon Stier's children owns stock and one of the children's marriages dissolves, the stock gets put into the company's treasury.

"That goes to restricting the stocks, pre-nuptial agreements, and whatnot," Stier says. "It can tear a business up. These are just things that have to be looked at and talked about."

Restrictions also can be placed on children's stock for more positive reasons. At Siewers Lumber, any family member who wants to get involved with the family business must work outside it for at least five years. The Siewers brothers added that restriction to encourage the next generation to bring in new ideas that will benefit the company once they finally join the payroll. In addition, the five-year rule helps insure that those children who merit stock are fully invested in the company and truly interested in owning it before they are given stock.

"We learned through the family forum that, as they get out of school, they go elsewhere and learn new ideas and a different way, a different process, a different mindset, and hopefully bring some of that back to the business," Richie Siewers says.