Family, Fairness and Legacy Planning

The greatest gift is keeping peace in the family

The holidays will soon be here – a time for cheer, goodwill, and of course – family. As we gather together, family dynamics become more apparent. In farm families, those relationships can become complicated when the conversation turns to legacy planning – especially in families with both on- and off-farm siblings.

Addressing the different viewpoints found among siblings is not generally easy. The older generations have strong opinions based on history and life experiences. One farmer felt he had been required to "buy the farm" twice – once through his many years of work and the second time when he had to buy out his siblings.

He said he didn't want that to happen to his farming kids. So our legacy advisor is working with him to create a plan using the concept of sweat equity – giving on-farm children "credit" for the years of hard work they've invested to make the operation what it is today. He's gained peace of mind knowing that each of his kids will be treated fairly.

By nature, legacy planning is an emotional process. Family tensions and dynamics rise to the surface when you start talking about how kids will be treated in a legacy plan – whether you choose to address it in a "fair" or an "equal" way. It makes a difference to the future of the farm whether you split everything equally or do what's fair for each child.

The key is to talk about issues and get things out in the open. You might think each group of children will respond a particular way to a plan, but their real-life reactions may be totally different.

One family proposed a plan using the concept of sweat equity, and an off-farm child responded in a very unexpected way. He said that he didn't ever expect to inherit any part of the farm – because his brother had always worked with Dad on the farm, while he had chosen to establish his own career in the city.

Legacy advisors have ideas about how to address these "fair vs. equal" issues. They can suggest strategies to provide some equality to off-farm children while protecting the farm and the on-farm siblings who have poured their heart and soul into it. The key is keeping the communication lines open with all family members.

This holiday season, the greatest gift may be peace of mind – knowing that the farm will stay in the family through a plan with all siblings on board.

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