Dear Michael: We have a time management issue. We know we should be updating our planning, but our year-to-year has changed so dramatically in the past decade. We're now growing crops that we take off the field later. We've also purchased a home in Arizona where we like to go as soon as the crops are in. We come back for Thanksgiving, Christmas and necessary doctors' appointments, etc. Our son runs the ranch operation during the winter months. Between coming and going, we never find the time to sit down and do what we need to do on our estate plan – Too Busy Snow Birds
Dear Busy Snow Birds: The first thing that comes to mind is you can invite me down to Arizona so I can get out of the cold for a few days. I'm not sure if you want me sleeping in your guest room, however.
The second thing that you might consider is when I work with my clients, they pay me a one-time fee and it's good for up to two years. On one of those trips back to the northern climes, you can come in and tell me all about your situation – either here in Bismarck, in Minot, Dickinson, Jamestown or Fargo. I'm in each locale every three weeks or so.
The other option is to send your information to me and we can talk on the phone. While you're down in Arizona, we can visit about your particular situation. But then I have time to do background work for you.
You'll tell me what you're thinking but then I call up your son – who's back home on the farm – and without revealing what your thoughts are – have a long discussion with your son and/or his wife about how they see things coming along and where they want to be in the future.
Estate planning – when there is a farming child involved especially – it's about understanding what each generation is trying to do or accomplish over time and melding those sometimes different thoughts and desires together to come up with a cohesive plan.
More and more, with land values being high, we're starting to see people set aside this valuable land in trust so their farming child can use the land for little or no cost over the years following their death – subject to some age limitations – so the land is protected from divorces or deaths of the heirs, etc.
You can set things up so there is no cost to using the land, but if the son changes his mind on farming or if he gets into financial trouble and we discover we backed the wrong horse, then the land doesn't get sold out at auction or pass to his wife, if he dies.
The age limitations would be something like ëIf Jr. is still farming and he's been there non-stop and he's reached the age of fifty, or sixty or sixty-five, then the land goes to him without restriction'. You know your children's tendencies and weaknesses – build an estate plan around that.
On the other hand, if I visit with your son and he feels like your holding him back on growing in his farm operation, maybe it's time to swing some of the land over to his name and he can buy it from you. As long as the price is fair, you're happy and he's happy, let him start building his estate.
I run into all kinds of different situations and every family has their own life story and the players in that story. Each estate plan has to be individually crafted to that family, their history and their future.
That's why I have a two-year contract with my clients. Many of my clients take that long – especially my snow birds – to get this done. But “the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step” and that step is deciding to get going – even if you feel time is an issue. I think it is better sometimes when you're away in Arizona to consider all the important issues carefully – away from the farm and away from family distractions.
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].