Dear Michael:

I don’t know if this problem is normal or not, but I have a father who refuses to do anything about our farm business. We have an incredibly diverse business with farming and a trucking company. We farm during the summer months, and haul year-round. My dad has had two heart attacks – but yet, every time we take him ‘somewhere to talk to someone’ he finds a reason not to continue the succession planning process.

Dad keeps a lot of the business details in his head – such as things about the trucking company, and to a larger degree, the farming business.

Why would someone wait to do any type of planning when they’ve already had these two major health scares?

– Worried Son

Dear Worried Son:

I’ve come across this ‘phenomena’ more times than I care to count. It’s hard to think a person with all kinds of health problems, who has every reason in the world to make an estate plan just won’t do it.

I suspect there are a variety of reasons.

If the person had a health scare and comes out the other side somewhat unscathed, they could convince themselves they’re somewhat invincible, and it wasn’t ‘their time’ to die. Perhaps that person feels that if they made a will, the ‘powers that be’ would have prompted them to make that decision: “Yes, it’s okay for him/her to die – let them go.” And poof – they believe they’d be strumming harp strings right now.

Maybe your dad thinks if he doesn’t do a will, this simple act will keep him from dying because he believes he’s “not ready yet.” In his mind, not making a final will is a talisman of sorts against death.

Here’s another reason why he could avoid making a will. This is especially true for those men who like to keep everything in their heads: They know full well that if they die, this information and resource dies with them.

And yet, even with all kinds of health scares, they won’t put that information to paper. For these men, I think a large part of it is retaining the power of running the farm operation. If he were to explain all the details of his farm business or other businesses via an estate plan, then he loses the power of you needing to consult with him every time there’s a decision to be made. Once those secrets are out and written down in an estate plan, he may feel like he is losing his grip on the power controls.

And he doesn’t want to feel that way. Did I mention most of the reasons for men not doing an estate plan are illogical?

Last but not least – many men fear if they have an estate plan that makes things go smoothly upon death, they worry that things might go too smoothly. The neighbors don’t hear of any troubles, the wife doesn’t get too stressed out and all the kids agree on how things were handled. So why would this be a problem? It’s because most men want to leave a lasting impression on this world. If everything in his estate goes too smoothly, he’s probably thinking after a couple months, he’ll be forgotten.

He wants the event of his death to have some magnitude in his family’s life, in the neighborhood, and with his friends. So why put together a plan that eliminates any and all problems? He’s worried the event of his death won’t leave any impression, let alone a lasting impression.

My advice to you is to reassure your father, that when he dies, he will not be forgotten and you will always honor and treasure his name. Let him know he will be remembered as the father who did all the right things, set up the right plans and he will be remembered as such.

Remind him as long as he is alive, he still has all of the power in running the operation, outside of what he wants you to know.

Tell him you are not going to replace him. Make time to have these conversations with your dad.

Of course, you’ll need to turn all of this into words that you and he are comfortable with. But if you know the starting point, it’ll start helping you add little bits and pieces as you converse to allay his fears.