Dear Michael:

We have a bit of a problem and maybe it won’t turn out to be the worst problem in the world. One of our daughter’s is married to a man who abuses alcohol but refuses to get any help. Our daughter doesn’t want to leave him because of their children. Being as they are farming with us, the other children have become concerned about what will happen when we die. They think he will ‘drink away’ the family farm.

Now we have our daughter-in-law’s throwing in their two cents worth making the entire family feel uncomfortable whenever we get together. Right now, we’re too worried to die! What should we do?

– No Thanksgiving For Us!

Dear No Thanksgiving:

It just sounds miserable – especially when you can’t have family get-togethers anymore because of the bickering going on – either openly or covertly. Unfortunately, this is more common than it should be.

First of all, sit down with your in-laws – without your children being present. Maybe it’s time you had a little heart to heart with them and explain this is your family, your farm and unless they send invitations to you or expect you to be included when their parents die, then it’s time to MYOB (mind your own business). Be nice to them but politely explain the facts of life to them. They married into this family and if they don’t have anything nice to say about your estate planning, then they should keep quiet. Remind them that when you started both this farm and this family, you had no idea who they were or that they would ever become a part of your family.

Next, sit down with your daughter and son-in-law – who seems to have a bit of a problem with the drink.

Explain to them if he doesn’t get some type of help with the drinking, then they will never own the farm in its entirety. Even though your in-laws don’t have anything to say about it, you know it’s possible he could end up drinking the farm away. Whether he does this by choosing alcohol overpaying expenses or just makes dumb decisions because he’s half pickled all the time, it doesn’t really matter. He needs to address this problem.

Explain the both of them that upon your death, the land will pass into a trust. The trustee will be someone who is going to be a bank trust officer. Tell them the trustee will be allowed to let them use the land unless the son-in-law has another DUI or has another problem with alcohol that gets to his ears. The trustee will be paid seven to nine percent of what the rents would be for the place, but that means ninety percent and more will be in play for the farm.

The trustee will also make certain the taxes are paid on the land, the insurance is paid on the buildings, the liability insurance is in play, and the son-in-law will be a tenant as long as he continues in his ways he is now. When they retire from farming, the land will be divided equally between all of the children from the trust. They will have first option to keep the parcel with the home and buildings, but beyond that everything will be split evenly between all of the children.

If however he does get his life straightened out, goes to AA and is sober for a period of no less than ten years, then he can begin to use rent paid to purchase the property and build equity in the farmland. He can report to the trustee and AA will support his sobriety claims.

So, walk softly, carry a big stick and use some tough love. Once you’ve had this conversation with your daughter and son-in-law and explain the ramifications of his decisions one way or another, and they fully understand, you can explain it then to your other children (in a private meeting). This should filter out to the in-laws and they should quiet down. Then, perhaps, you can plan another Thanksgiving!