How to talk to your partner about succession and estate planning

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Hello, northeast Ohio!

On Monday, we celebrated Valentine’s Day. So, what did you give your loved one on this special day? Was it roses, chocolate or maybe an edible fruit bouquet? Your display of affection may have also included a sentimental card, a bottle of Ohio wine, or candles. Each are excellent ways to express love. 

In addition to the forementioned love overtures, our Ohio State University Extension farm succession team encouraged attendees in our four-week “Planning for the Future of Your Farm” webinar series to add a different twist to this year’s Valentine’s Day celebration. 

What was this twist? Our twist was for farm couples to enjoy a romantic dinner complete with all their favorite foods and then to sit in the glow of candlelight and to talk about a very important subject: their individual mortality. 

Really? Talk about death on Valentine’s Day? After all, death is not a romantic topic or one that many are comfortable talking about. It is even harder to think about our own mortality. However, I would contend this conversation could be one of the most loving and thoughtful discussions that a couple can have.

Our challenge is to complete a succession and estate plan which allows for a smooth transition once we are gone. One of the hypothetical questions we pose in our workshops is “What knowledge would you need to pass on if you knew you had only two months to live?” 

This exact scenario happened to our family almost 12 years ago when my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 

I am grateful that we had seven weeks with my dad to quickly make preparations and to learn so much. The coronavirus pandemic has also been a stark reminder that our world can change in an instant. I challenge you to think how your farm and family would react to the loss to a primary operator or partner. What knowledge and skills need to be transferred so they can be successful without you? 

Decisions

As you plan there are a myriad of decisions to be made. 

One of the most difficult is determining how to be fair to off-farm heirs without jeopardizing the future of the heirs who have remained with the family business. Other decisions include deciding who will manage the business in the future, how to distribute assets, how and when the senior generation will retire, and how the business will deal with unexpected issues such as divorce, disability, family discord, or paying for nursing home expenses. 

One of the most crucial planning functions is preparing the next generation to lead the farm in the future. It is a great idea to ask the next generation what additional responsibilities they believe they should be taking on and what changes they would like to see made for them to be successful in the future. What do they need to be schooled up on? Have you completed a skills assessment with each son or daughter to see what training they need to be successful in the future? If they had to take over the farm today, what would they be most concerned or scared about? What approach will you take to methodically transfer managerial control? 

Documents

Another act of love is to work as a couple and family to compile a listing of your financial and farm documents. In our workshops, we share a writeable PDF document titled “Getting Your Farm and Family Affairs in Order.” This document allows families to summarize their assets and how each is owned, valued, and titled. This information, along with liabilities, will be needed by your attorney as you develop your estate plan. 

Now is a great time to pull these documents together in an estate binder as we are receiving many of our year-end summaries from financial institutions. Having all of these documents together will save you money as you meet with your attorney and is sure to make the settling of your estate less of a burden on your spouse and family members. 

So, I encourage you to take a whiff of those Valentine’s Day flowers, eat a piece of leftover candy, and then start the loving process of planning for your farm’s future. Our farm succession team is here to help you. In addition to our in-person and virtual workshops, we are also available to speak at events and to conduct kitchen-table meetings with your farm family. Learn out more at go.osu.edu/farmsuccession.

And remember some wise advice from Chuck Palahniuk who stated “We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.” Have a good and safe day! 

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