“I believe in keeping a family, a family and a farm, a farm,” said Carolyn Thompson, attorney at Thompson Law, PC, of Sioux Falls, S.D.
The lawyer presented at the I Am FarmHer Mini Series event held in Sheffield, Iowa, earlier this week, where I was also a speaker.
Her message hit home for a lot of folks in attendance as she described the nightmares many families face today as they deal with transitioning the ranch while still getting along with siblings, in-laws and multiple generations.
“You can have the nicest house, beautiful fences, a great barn and perfect equipment, but if your estate plan is garbage, all of those nice things will look good on an auction sale,” Thompson warned the crowd of 180 farm and ranch women.
Thompson said that many people tell her they don’t have the money to spend on legal fees to put together an estate plan. But without one, the repercussions could cost you the entire farm.
“It amazes me that people will spend more on a set of tractor tires than they will on estate planning,” she said.
She urged the crowd to consider the perspective of how much the ranch is really worth and how many decades and generations of work have gone into it. In comparison, paying for a solid estate plan is a very small but important investment to protect a lifetime of work.
Thompson said the toughest thing for people is just getting started.
“Just call and make an appointment with a good lawyer who specializes in agricultural estate planning,” she said.
So what does she recommend you bring to the appointment with a lawyer? Two things — how much land you own and the names of your children.
“You don’t have to have all of the solutions; that’s what we’re here for,” she said. “We just need to know what your hopes are for the land and your children and what you’re most scared of. After that, we’ll go over the options and help create a solid plan.”
While no two farms are created equal, a common denominator among many of the stories Thompson told was a lack of planning and just hoping that things will all work themselves out.
“Hope is not a plan,” she said. “So many people tell me, ‘I hope my kids will get along,’ or ‘I hope they’ll do the right thing when I’m gone.’”
Far too often, hope or a blind faith in things working out for the best can end in lawsuits, fights and division amongst family members. And Thompson advises ranching couples make a plan together.
“Don’t leave it up to your spouse to figure things out when you’re gone,” she said. “This should be a team effort, something you decide together, and then clearly communicate your plan and wishes to your children, so everyone is on the same page.”
As 2017 draws to a close, perhaps a great goal for 2018 will be to get your affairs in order and make sure your land, your loved ones and your legacy are well protected.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.