Dear Michael: Our son has been farming with us for a few years now. Jr. is single and doesn’t seem to have any interest in dating or getting married. He just wants to sit at home when the work is done – and he’s a good worker – but he has two sisters who are married and do have children. I guess from what we can see now, Jr. (and most of his friends) are not likely to get married and carry on the family farm to another generation?
We know this is not a very unique situation as many of the young men working with their parents in farming these days are not married. How do we handle this? – Lost Generation
Dear Lost Generation:
The type of child you describe is certainly one of the fastest growing groups of young farmers. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons to send your child off to college or to work off the farm for a few years is so they have an opportunity to meet a ‘significant other’.
However, some kids don’t want to go to college and you need the extra help around the home, so they never leave.
Before we give up on them for marriage, this generation is not known for making major life decisions before they turn ages thirty to thirty-five. The last generation (our generation) knew what they were going to do with their lives, knew who they were going to marry and had made most of life’s big decisions by twenty-five.
Not this generation – add on another ten years or so.
This seems to be the way young people are going to be these days, and you need to have an estate plan that reflects these societal changes. If you were to die right now while your son is still single and he inherited most of the estate in farmland and farm assets, he could and might choose to do something entirely different than farming.
When I work with my clients, I ask my clients what they want to see from their farming child over a long period of time. So, for example, you’d like to see him get married and raise another generation of farmers. You need to put into the will that if this occurs, then he will receive assets.
However, if he never marries, then you might decide to say he receives his share of assets, but the remaining assets will be held in a trust over a long period of time. He would receive such assets as machinery (subject to debt) and his one-third of the farmland assets and the other two-thirds, held in trust, would be rented or sold to him with very favorable terms.
Of his one-third share, you want to make certain he owns the farmstead outright as he’ll need a place to operate out of plus the other children don’t need the liability and costs of co-owning a farmstead. If there is a possible second child who might want to farm, then this ownership would be contingent on the farming child continuing to farm. If he quits, then ownership would go to the contingent child, along with all the benefits of low rental rates from the trust and the right to buy property at a reduced rate.
If this child is making good decisions, he’ll take advantage of the low rental rates and build funds to buy more land from the trust. By the time he retires, he’ll own the land he wants to own and if there’s any remainder it would go to your other two children.
If he abruptly quits, then he’s got his one-third share (same as the other children) plus whatever he has purchased and the remaining land is disbursed from the trust to the other two children.
You might also put something in writing that stipulates if he should die leaving no legal heirs by issue (children derived from him), then the farmland reverts back to your other children and/or their children. So, if he dies a hermit or gets married to someone with children of their own, the land doesn’t end up in the wrong place again.
Everything’s possible in estate planning. Don’t let your son’s slow decision making in life stop you from doing the proper estate planning you need to do.