Dear Michael: We have kind of a strange problem. Twenty-four years ago, we bought land from my father. At the time, he was adamant about paying fair market value for the land, as well as a higher interest rate – one equal to CD's at the time. We paid over five percent interest on this twenty-year contract for deed until we paid it off. Dad wanted it this way because he always said 'It's not fair to the other kids if you don't pay what the land is worth!" and so, over the years, we sucked it up and paid the payments as due. Sometimes, making this payment meant my family and I had to live on a whole lot less when cattle prices dropped.
Now, we've had an offer for our farmland from a developer to buy the land at prices that have nothing to do with agriculture. That's the good news! The bad news is now that this has happened, the other siblings are all mad because they don't get to share in the windfall. On one hand, I understand how they feel, but on the other hand, what we paid for the land twenty years ago was a fair price and we worked hard to pay for it. How should we deal with our siblings? – Tied in Knots.
Dear Tied: In a recent lottery, where the winner won some millions and millions of dollars, they interviewed other people who had bought tickets at the same place. Most of them were angry because they had bought a ticket to but hadn't won the mega-millions jackpot and they thought they 'deserved' to win more than the winners did. Where do we get this unreasonable sense of entitlement? If the shoe were on the other foot, would these people feel the same about sharing their good fortune?
On an agricultural note, I had a client who bought land south of Jamestown from his parents for seven hundred fifty dollars an acre – in nineteen ninety-four. When it hit one thousand five hundred dollars per acre, his brother sued him – ten years later for the difference in price. The case got tossed out of court.
Let's say I go a yard sale, buy a painting and find out fifteen years later that I purchased a Rembrandt and sell it for millions, do I owe the proceeds of the sale back to the garage sale owner?
If my dad helps me buy a junker car to drive to school and I put it into a shop and suddenly this 1970 Charger RT is worth one hundred and fifty thousand dollars because I took care of it, do I owe my siblings a share of what I get for it? Did they store it? Did they take care of it so it didn't rust out? Did they pay insurance, oil changes, new tires, or any maintenance? Did they care one way or another about this until the money came in? What entitles them to any share of this property? At the time Dad gave it to me, it was under a thousand dollars in value – there were tons of them out there!
The same is true of this property – with one notable exception. Should your parents have died, you would have had to pay your siblings for the remainder of the contract for deed. Because one of your parents outlived the term of the contract, you are done paying for the property.
Had they both died, however, you would have been obligated to your siblings for the remainder of the contract. Wouldn't that make you the only child who actually had to 'pay' for their inheritance?
If things had gone the other way, and farmland prices dropped below what they were worth when you bought the property (which happened often in the mid to late eighties), would your siblings have then felt obligated to step in and help you pay the difference between what you owed and what the farmland was valued at to keep the bank from foreclosing on you?
Let's get things straight. If you paid market value for something years ago, and you paid your debt, a 'deal's a deal!' and that's the way it goes.
Two, life isn't always fair and equitable and the sooner you get used to the idea that life doesn't 'owe' you anything, the faster you'll set and accomplish goals to create your own destiny – and if you don't, too bad, so sad for you. Life is very equitable – I've noticed the hardest working people are usually the considered the 'luckiest' by the people who refuse to work hard.
Three, your parents brought you into this world, made sure you were fed and educated, and sent you out in the world to make your own way. Like as not, you've had to bounce back on them a time or two during your life. But your parents don't 'owe' you anything – they've done their part and anything else they do is out of the goodness of their heart. They 'owe' themselves a good pat on the back, a secure retirement, and a happy, healthy life because they did work hard for it.
This sense of 'entitlement' is bringing our country to it's knees. It's time we became Americans again and we get our 'can do' going for us again and get it done the right way, the old-fashioned way – because you 'earned' it.