Hal and Judy Sanders came in to visit with me about their farm situation. I asked "How was the Fourth of July?" and Judy stated "Well, if you wanted to see fireworks, you should have been at our house that weekend. We had all our kids home–along with our farming child–and we brought up the fact that we wanted the family farm to go to the farming son and the rest of our assets would go to the other two children.”

Hal said, "One daughter said, ‘What happens if you go into the nursing home and there is no cash when you die–no other assets left? Does that mean we lose our inheritance and Jim (the farming son) gets to keep his?’” Hal continued, “I never expected that from her–although she’s got a husband who keeps asking questions, if you know what I mean.”

Judy said the other son thought he’d like to own some land too. "He wants to do some hunting and he’d like to keep some cows. Now everyone wants a piece of the pie. By the time we got a little into discussing all this, the fireworks were flying all right!”

I told Hal and Judy, "It’s a great thing you brought this up now and got to experience what will likely be a microcosm of what will happen upon your second death. However, everyone in the family feels like they own a piece of the family farm for their own reasons, right?" They nodded agreement.

"When a person feels like they own something and suddenly that something is lost to them, every human being goes through the same steps to deal with this loss–sadness, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. They are still somewhere between sadness and anger. My guess is the next thing you’re going to hear is ‘bargaining’ where they come up with an ‘alternate’ plan to owning the farm assets, if you haven’t already.”

"However, if you feel like Jim needs to own the family farm in order to make a go of it in agriculture, you’re just going to have to let your other children go through these steps. Some steps they will pass through quite quickly and others may take some time. But you have set them on the path of the future and the sooner they reach acceptance, the better off everyone will be.”

"If you give in to the anger, or the sadness, and especially the bargaining, when they come up with alternatives for dividing the family farm, you"re likely going to risk the family farm and its ability to function in the future. Imagine if your son, Joey, wanted to run some cows on the family farm. Who’s going to feed them, care for them, house them, etc? Is he thinking Jim would do that for him?"

"Alternatively, if Jim and Joey can sit down and work out a plan now–even if it’s a plan that will likely never come to fruition–about how to run some cows together and who would do what in this partnership and how would each of them be paid, you can eliminate the problem with Joey. Get this agreement in writing, however, as they tend to forget the ‘details’ of the deal they made.”

"Second, sit down with your daughter and explain to her that all of the assets are at risk if either or both of you go into a nursing home. Perhaps a fair agreement would be that if this were to happen, each child would lose a proportionate amount of the assets they received in order to pay for this care.”

"For example, if Joey receives seventy-five percent of the total assets, then he should be responsible for seventy-five percent of the care costs and the other two would contribute twenty-five percent–or their share of the estate.”

We have to recognize people go through all kinds of different emotions, feelings, and sometimes these can turn into fireworks, but with a patient hand and an ability to work out compromises, anyone can make a successful farm estate plan.


Michael Baron is the owner of Great Plains Diversified Services, Inc. and is a regular contributor to the "Farm And Livestock Directory". Involved in farm estate planning for more than thirty years, Michael Baron is well-versed in farm income taxation, estate taxation, retirement planning, transition planning, oil and gas estate issues, and all other issues facing the family farm, including family dynamics.  Presented in a comprehensive, down-to-earth 'question and answer" format, the topics addressed in this column talk about the many aspects of estate planning – and how to 'Keep the Family Farm in the Family'.   Contact Michael Baron at [email protected].