Working On Your Farm's Succession Plan? Write An Ethical Will.

January 17, 2019 08:26 AM
Write an ethical will to help guide your family.

Twelve years ago, Mitzi Perdue says an experience changed the trajectory of her life.

At a meeting of wealthy, high-profile people who belong to what she describes as the “Famous Last Names Club,” she heard nearly everyone share a story about how they weren’t getting along with their family. Perdue, who grew up as part of the Sheraton hotel family, the Hendersons, and later married Frank Perdue, the poultry giant, was puzzled.

“I couldn’t really relate,” she recalls. Both of her families had been what she describes as high functioning. Plus, their respective businesses had thrived through multiple generations, an unlikely feat given that 70% of family businesses don’t survive beyond the first generation.

I started studying why some families are high-functioning and others are not,” she recalls. “Why do some families want to help each other be all they can be?”

That question sent her on a quest during the next decade to find the answer. She read books, she attended conferences, she watched programs on YouTube and talked with tens of experts.

Her conclusion, she notes, could be summed up in one word: culture.

“Culture is a road map that guides us in what’s right or wrong,” she says. “The families that don’t [succeed] left their culture to accident. The strong ones invest in and teach their children values.”

She shared three things with attendees at the 2019 Executive Women in Agriculture Conference that she says saved both of her families and their thriving businesses through the years.

“We keep our quarrels in the family,” she says. “We know that being part of a family requires sacrifice. Relationships are more important than money--what good is it to succeed financially but fall apart as a family?”

Along with those three factors, she says the Perdue family made five additional decisions that it continues to use. She recommends these to help other families that are wanting to survive and thrive in the future. They are:

  1. Create an ethical will
  2. Encourage and cherish traditions
  3. Have awards that reinforce your culture
  4. Write newsletters just for children
  5. Produce a “What It Means to Be Us” book

Upon his death in 2005, her husband, Frank Perdue, left the following “ethical will” for his children and grandchildren, which she says the family still uses today. It reads:

1. Be honest always.
2. Be a person whom others are justified in trusting.
3. If you say you will do something, do it.
4. You don’t have to be the best, but you should be the best you can be.
5. Treat all people with courtesy and respect, no exceptions.
6. Remember that the way to be happy is to think of what you can do for others.
7. Be part of something bigger than yourself.
8. Remember that hard work is satisfying and fulfilling.
9. Nurture the ability to laugh and have fun.
10. Have respect for those who have gone before; learn from their weaknesses and build on their strengths.

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Spell Check

Sd, SD
1/18/2019 09:20 AM

  Poor bad business, you sound like my sister, I bet you never did a days work on that farm and have no idea of what work goes into it, You only sound bitter and are only thinking of money for your own pocket. My sister acted the same way, and she never did a days work on our dads farm, but I knew every post, every rock pile, every repair, cause I did it or did with dad, I'm also the younger brother and that's also why my sister was red mad that my dad left me executor of his will, it was plain will divided equally, but do u suppose big sis was gonna make it easy , nope cost the estate 500k in estate lawyer fees fighting me, poor big sis!!!

Lubbock , TX
1/21/2019 09:58 PM

  The comments are very normal based on my 42 years in the wealth management & trust business. Farmers as a group seem to do the least well at planning their estates. Certainly there are exceptions but it seems to me many farm families just don’t grasp the complexity needed to insure transition from one generation to the next or simply unwilling to hire the professional help required to assure a successful estate plan. The failure to plan not the tax laws are what causes the dissolution of most family farms. It’s avoidable but only if properly undertaken.

Bad buisness
Nashville, TN
1/17/2019 01:24 PM

  How sweet . Dad was retiring 24 years ago. That was delayed by 20 years. He retired after the respirator was unplugged. No ID's on cows. Don't figure money till February. And that's because the schedule F and 1040 has to be crunched . Little brother is 46 years old ,has no intention of supporting himself. His mother doesn't care.30 plus years of 80 to 110 hour weeks on this dairy. Still no goal for the future. This place is still "estate" from 4 and a half years ago.Good ole little brother had his mother spring for 180000 worth of buildings 2 years ago that he wanted to see be built. 2018 Good ole mom's income is down $80000 in milk revenue at the age of 74.She didn't know until I told her so. I could go on for hours about bad business . By the way little brother was put on Lorazepam about 20 years ago ,why, I don't know. He's been on a down hill slide ever since. Long miserable life around here. .


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