Dear Michael: We have two boys who want to farm. Although our farm is large enough to accommodate both of these boys farming, it's not the farm that's the problem – it's the boys. One is very serious about life, sometimes to the point of too far. The other is more light-hearted and loves to have fun. In fact, sometimes his 'having fun' goes way too far in light of a couple DUI's. The serious one is single and likes to work all day on the farm and the other child is married and has kids. He prefers to spend more time with his family.
The two are brothers but really don't socialize together and run in entirely different social groups. We just don't know if we leave this farm to our two boys (we have two other daughters) if there's any way these two could be partners. We are a little concerned about the 'party' child as it seems he should have grown out of this by now. What things should we be asking ourselves before writing a will? – Two of a Different Kind.
Dear Two: It's good you have sufficient assets to allow both children to farm, but these two sound like putting water and gas together as a mixture.
You have to ask yourself 'If these two boys receive the farm operation, how would they run it together?' By the way, you want to include them in on the discussion. Although this may be an entirely uncomfortable conversation for everyone because you're going to have to call a spade a spade, you'll get a real feel for how these two will interact with one another.
You need to decide if what they are going through now are 'growing pains' or if there is such a basic difference in personalities that a joint ownership of the farm would lead to disaster. The child, who wants to have a good time, doesn't seem to be acknowledging that his party ways are leading him down the wrong track.
One DUI is pretty earth shattering and most people would have woke up and flown straight after that incident – but getting two DUI's shows he may have a drinking problem. Typically drinking is just the mask people wear to cover other emotional or mental problems, but addiction to alcohol can lead to all kinds of disasters for the farm – divorce, bankruptcies, etc. Not a good pot to throw your life's work – the family farm – in to, is it?
What questions do you need to answer before you do an estate plan?
First of all, you can put down some ideas as to how the two boys will work together.
Then, you do a second set of ideas that states how things will be split up should they not be able to work together. Who would get what land? Who would get the farmstead, who would live where, etc. etc?
The farmstead is a very big deal because it is the control center for the entire farm operation. Everything that's done on the farm typically begins and ends on the farmstead.
But if you have two boys, who both want to farm/ranch, and they don't want to farm together, one of them is going to get the farmstead and the other one is not. You have to decide how that will work out. Do they draw straws to see who gets the farmstead? Is there other circumstances that would lend towards one receiving it versus the other, such as they already have a home there and have been living there? Has one invested in farm buildings that the other has not? Sometimes, it's easy to decide who will get the farmstead, other times it's not.
In either case, if one of them receives the farmstead for whatever reason, then how will the other one be compensated so they can start another farmstead operation? Splitting the land is usually much easier to decide upon than splitting up the farmstead and how that all works.
Last but not least, you'll also have to have some ideas as to what happens should one of them decide to quit farming. Does the other one have the option of buying the leaving farmer out? What will the price be, terms, conditions, etc., etc?
There are a lot of questions to be answered, but a logical step-by-step approach is needed to answer all of these questions, and one by one, you'll come up with all of the answers and then be ready to put it into legal format with your attorney.
This column is not to be construed in any way, shape or form as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney prior to drafting any legal documents or making any legal decisions. (GFY).