Yes, succession planning is overwhelming. You have to think about dying, who will lead the farm in the future and who gets what.
“A lot of families want to just stick their heads in the sand and do nothing,” says, Polly Dobbs an attorney with Starr Austen and Miller in Logansport, Ind., and member of the Farm Journal Legacy Project Advisory Team.
“But, doing nothing is just not an option if you want the farm to have a successful transition to the next generation,” she says. “A ‘do-nothing plan’ is a disaster waiting to happen.”
The first step is go get over the intimidation factor. “Once you start having conversations, a lot of the weight will come off your shoulders,” Dobbs says.
Do not make assumptions about who may or may not want to be involved in the farm, Dobbs says. Instead, talk to all potential family members. As children grow up and start their own families, it is less likely those heart-to-heart conversations will happen naturally.
Consider having a family meeting to kick off these conversations.
Then you can get into the more technical aspects of succession planning, such as wills, trusts and transferring property.
"This process doesn’t have to be overwhelming," Dobbs says. To help frame the issue, Dobbs says farmers should ask themselves: What if I get hit by a bus?
"Draft your succession plan like that life-changing event is going to happen tomorrow," she says. "The hard work comes in establishing the foundation for your plan based on today’s circumstances—the tweaks are easy as things change down the road."
For example, Dobbs says, if your grandson is still playing with toy tractors in the backyard, don’t draft your plan to hinge on him taking over the farm operation. "When he’s ready 17 or so years from now, tweak your plan," she says.
Once you have a potential plan, be sure to share your intentions with your children, Dobbs advises. “Their feedback can be really valuable, so you know that what you put on paper has a good chance of succeeding when mom and dad are gone and the kids are stepping into ownership,” she says.
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