Too many people procrastinate when it comes to succession planning, citing insurmountable obstacles and unique circumstances. Draw comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. Acknowledge that succession is a tough topic, and the related conversations in a family setting are difficult. But know your family can prevail and success is attainable.
Read the following similar yet different inquiries from real readers like yourself. Do they resemble your situation? Can you learn from their position and apply a remedy to yours?
Q: My brother and I have been farming together for more than 30 years. He has no children. I have a son and a daughter. My son is majoring in agriculture in college and plans to come back to work on the farm. My brother insists that he work elsewhere for a minimum of two to three years before we consider adding him to our team. We have a very large operation and take pride in the fact that we’ve trained countless young people throughout the years, which makes it much more difficult for me to send my son "down the road for training." Needless to say, I’m caught in the middle. If I side with my brother, I’m turning my back on my son. By siding with my son, my brother sees me as a weak and ineffective leader. What should I do?
Q: For the past 10 years, I’ve been active in and financially committed to our family farm. The operation includes my dad, an uncle and me. My uncle wants to bring his daughter into the operation as a hired hand and gradually allow her to work into an ownership position. She has the education and the experience to benefit the operation; unfortunately, we don’t have enough hours during the off-season to justify another full-time employee. How do we bring her in so the transition of ownership is fair to everyone? She is the logical choice for succeeding my uncle. I’m confident we can work together; however, I don’t want this to be forced on me and cause bad feelings. What should I do?
Q: My wife works for her parents on their family farm. She has one brother active in the operation and a sister who is not. Her parents just turned 70 and have not talked about their plans or goals for succession. We both want to see the farm continue, but my wife doesn’t want to ask about it. Although I’m not currently involved with the farm, do I have the right to ask them about their plans?
A: For each question, I recommend the writer engage in a conversation. Talking is not about making a decision. It’s about learning, exploring and better understanding. Explore the obstacles that are keeping you from engaging in constructive conversations. Define common goals and adopt an ongoing communication strategy. Succession is more about conversation and a shared vision than it is about legal documents and tax strategies.
The beginning discussion is merely an opportunity to explore thoughts, research opinions, ask questions and share information. It isn’t difficult. You’re not asking for something, and you shouldn’t be lobbying for a position. Try to:
- Focus on facts.
- Decide on results.
- Include others.
- Don’t let the difficult problems become the impossible.
- Know that everyone wants to be consulted, but individuals must choose.
The act of planning for succession creates a divide between those who do and those who don’t take the next steps. A wise farmer once shared, "A farm family doesn’t have to plan for succession, but they will have to compete with those who do."
To access the Farm Journal Legacy Project tools, including work sheets on how to have the initial