|Dear Michael: My husband and I have been farming since 1982. We have all of the normal things – land, machinery, some savings and life insurance. We have one child farming, one son-in-law who works with us as well as with his own parents, and two other children not involved in the farm.
My biggest problem is not the amount of assets, it's not estate taxes or anything else – my problem, quite simply, is I can't get my husband to commit to even talking about this or setting anything up. We had a simple will when we got married and we've outgrown that will ten times since then. What is it about men that they just refuse to sit down and talk about what's necessary?– Wife of Uncooperative Husband
Dear Wife: Over the years, I've sat and listened to many, many couples come in and explain why it took them so long to come in and start the process.
The number one reason men don't want to do estate planning is, "It's an easy thing to procrastinate about."
The second biggest reason, which has a lot to do with the first reason, is the same reason, but twofold in nature. Men do not like to go where they are not sure they will know what is being discussed and they don't like to look or feel embarrassed or foolish in front of someone about questions these men think they should have all the answers to. You know, "I'm a man, I know what I want to do with my stuff, my land, my etc." followed by grunting and a lot of beating on their chests.
The two-fold nature of this is men don't want to go in, get asked a lot of questions they don't know the answers to and because they don't really know, they may end up agreeing with something that they really don't understand – which might be ultimately wrong for the family farm.
In other words, they wouldn't want to walk into a machinery parts store and say "My combine is making this 'pingy or kind of tingy kind of sound from somewhere by the back' – what part do I need to fix it?" Imagine how embarrassed they would be when the counterman looked at them with a "Say what?" expression.
No, they want to walk in and say "I opened up the combine, there's a bearing loose on this exact pulley, and I need a new set of bearings to make this combine work right and solve the issues. Give me parts 123AB and I'll take it home and fix it."
Men are problem-solvers and don't like going in to anything they don't think they can find a solution to and fix it themselves – with a few exceptions.
They may have some issues – which they realize a professional went to school for and interned in – and they may defer to the doctor, or lawyer or accountant – to give them good advice on how to go about solving their problem – although my own father was commonly known to argue with his doctors.
In any case, be gentle with him and try to explain to him that you just need to go in to get some information so that he can make an informed decision about how he wants to handle his estate planning.
If that doesn't work, you make an appointment with someone, you put him in the car and say, "We're going." Both methods can be effective based on how you've learned over the years as to the best method.
An eighty-year old man, when I commented on how happy he and his wife were told me "If you want a happy life, keep a happy wife."
In other words, it seems women have quite a bit of control over what happens, or what needs to happen, and what will happen with men. I think it's essential women take charge of this problem, because, like as not, someday this problem is going to get dropped in your lap and you're going to be hopping mad these things weren't taken care of before he died.
So, rather than not getting your estate planning done, perhaps you're the one who has been using him as a reason to procrastinate yourself. You know how to get him to do the things he needs to do – you just got to get determined about it. In my world, I would guess that ninety percent of men arrive in my office because their wife got them there – but in one hundred percent of the cases, the men arrived thinking it was 'their' idea. Food for thought.