We are doing an informal survey of all of our clients we've done business with over the past thirty some years.

Over the years, we have talked to well over fifteen hundred different families and their situations and came up with options for their estate planning needs. We'd like to talk to them about how our planning helped them, who is running the farm today, and has this next generation planned for the future by completing good estate planning.

As you can imagine, my planning experience spans four decades – the eighties, nineties, two thousands and now this decade. As such, I've worked with children of people who survived the Great Depression. I've worked with families before, during and after the eighties onslaught and the nineties when it was considered 'child abuse' to give your child the farm.

Each generation seems to have their own signature.

Children of the Great Depression were infamous for doing planning but not telling anyone what they had done or how it was completed. Their children were told to mind their own business and they'd find out when they died – and they kept their word. Many couples had no wills as they trusted no one to help them because they thought they'd be taken advantage of. Most farm children were entirely shocked at the plans – or lack thereof – their parents had put together after their deaths. This was the 'radio' generation and most people received information from newspaper and radio.

During the eighties and nineties, attitudes began to shift.

Gradually, more and more parents shared with their children what their thoughts for the future were and how they were going to implement this in their wills and other documents. Most importantly, how this would work out for the farming child. 'Equal was not equitable' became popular in farm and ranch estate planning as parents began to recognize the 'sweat equity' of a child who stuck with the farm operation versus the other children who left.  

This was the television generation. They received information by what they heard on radio and TV, but also by attending meetings, by researching in papers available, and talking (socializing) with other farmers and ranchers.

The past ten to fifteen years has brought about the 'smart phone' generation. Machinery grew larger, far more complex, and needed more technology to work efficiently. Along with efficiency rising, so too did costs of land as more land could be operated more profitably.

As profits grew, so did land values and the need to have someone committed to keeping up with the technology education necessary.

Much of the information this generation receives is via smart phones and through internet connections of one sort or another.

As information moved to tech media, fewer and fewer young farmers and ranchers attended meetings to learn new ideas, new methods of improving practices, unlike the eighties and nineties group. Today, when they need information, 'Google it' is the quick answer.

Lost in this transition of education from the 'Great Depression radio generation' to the 'smart phone' was learning the ability to meet face to face, communicate openly with other people and to be able to openly express your desires and needs.

It's hard to do any of that by text, Skype, Gmail, etc. This generation is glued to their cellphones and the panacea of information. Yet, they are inundated with advertisers from all directions and this leads to confusion – 'who is right, who is wrong?' When confusion reigns, indecision follows.

Estate planning requires meeting face to face and having someone understand you and your desires and needs. However, this generation has done less estate planning than the 'radio generation' of the Great Depression – a major step backwards. Does this mean we will repeat the one generation grows value, the next generation enjoys it, and the third generation loses it?

We'd like to visit with our old clients and new to see what their thoughts are and we'll post our results.


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].