Estate Planning for the Family Farm

Estate planning for family farms is not just about the business, it is about passing your values and legacy to your loved ones.

The family is at the center of most farms and agricultural businesses. Each family has its own history, values and goals. A good place to start the planning process is to take the time to reflect on the family and the farm history, says Ohio County Journal in the recent article “Whole Farm Planning.”

There are lessons to be learned from all generations, both from their successes and disappointments. The underlying values and goals for the entire family and each individual member need to be articulated. They usually remain unspoken and are evident only in how family members treat each other and make business decisions. Articulating and discussing values and goals makes the planning process far more efficient and effective.  What’s more, effective estate planning for a family farm may help convey these values and goals to the next generation.  This is true of most businesses, but estate planning for a family farm is more than just a simple will.

An analysis of the current state of the farm needs to be done to determine the financial, physical and personnel status of the business. Is the farm being managed efficiently? Are there resources not being used? Is the farm profitable and are the employees contributing or creating losses? It is also wise to consider external influences, including environmental, technological, political, and governmental matters.

Five plans are needed. Once the family understands the business from the inside, it’s time to create five plans for the family: business, retirement, estate, transition and investment plans. Note that none of these five stands alone. They must work in harmony to maintain the long-term life of the farm, and one bad plan will impact the others.

Most planning in farms concerns production processes, but more is needed. A comprehensive business plan helps create an action plan for production and operation practices, as well as the financial, marketing, personnel, and risk-management. One method is to conduct a SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats in each of the areas mentioned in the preceding sentence. Create a realistic picture of the entire farm, where it is going and how to get there.  This aspect is similar to most estate planning for businesses, so see here for more detail.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/estate-planning-with-a-business/

Retirement planning is a missing ingredient for many farm families. There needs to be a strategy in place for the owners, usually the parents, so they can retire at a reasonable point. This includes determining how much money each family member needs for retirement, and the farm’s obligation to retirees. Retirement age, housing and retirement accounts, if any, need to be considered. The goal is to have the farm run profitably by the next generation, so the parent’s retirement will not adversely impact the farm.  It may also simply be having an exit strategy and a way to monetize the farm if you choose not to continue owning or working it.

Transition planning looks at how the business can continue for many generations. This planning requires the family to look at its current situation, consider the future and create a plan to transfer the farm to the next generation. This includes not only transferring assets, but also transferring control. Those who are retiring in the future must hand over not just the farm, but their knowledge and experience to the next generation.  A key component is identifying who would operate the farm in the future, including groups of people suited to specific tasks.

Estate planning is determining and putting down on paper how the farm assets, from land and buildings to livestock, equipment and debts owed to or by the farm, will be distributed. The complexity of an agricultural business requires the help of a skilled estate planning attorney who has experience working with farm families. The estate plan must work with the transition plan. Good estate planning for a family farm may also need to address how family members who are not involved with the farm will be treated fairly without putting the farm operation in jeopardy.

Investment planning for farm families usually takes the shape of land, machinery and livestock. Some off-farm investments may be wise, if the families wish to save for future education or retirement needs and achieve investment diversification. These instruments may include stocks, bonds, life insurance or retirement accounts. Farmers need to consider their personal risk tolerance, tax considerations and time horizons for their investments.  In sum, estate planning for a family farm is essentially to protecting the integrity of the farm you’ve worked to develop and to protect the family at the heart of the farm.

Reference: Ohio County Journal (Feb. 11, 2021) “Whole Farm Planning”

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Three Retirement Myths to Avoid

 There are three common retirement myths relating to retirement age, medical coverage and social security that clients often suffer from.

While you’re busy planning to retire, chances are good you’ll run into more than a few retirement myths, things that people who otherwise seem sincere and sensible are certain of. However, don’t get waylaid because any one of these retirement myths could do real harm to your plans for an enjoyable retirement. That’s the lesson from a recent article titled “Let’s Leave These 3 Retirement Myths in 2020’s Dust” from Auburn.pub.

You can keep working as long as you want. It’s easy to say this when you are healthy and have a secure job but counting on a delayed retirement strategy leaves you open to many pitfalls, especially with the effect COVID-19 has had on the workplace. Nearly 40% of current retirees report having retired earlier than planned, according to a study from the Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement. Job losses and health issues are the reasons most people gave for their change of plans. A mere 15% of those surveyed who left the workplace before they had planned on retiring, said they did so because their finances made it possible.

Decades before you plan to retire, you should have a clear understanding of how much of a nest egg you need to retire, while living comfortably during your senior years—which may last for one, two, three or even four decades. If your current plan is far from hitting that target, don’t expect working longer to make up for the shortfall. You might have no control over when you retire, so saving as much as you can right now to prepare is the best defense.

Medicare will cover all of your medical care. A common retirement myth is that Medicare will cover all of your medical costs and consequently retirees under plan for their needs.  Medicare will cover some of costs, but it doesn’t pay for everything. Original Medicare (Parts A and B) covers hospital visits and outpatient care but doesn’t cover vision and dental care. It also doesn’t cover prescription drug costs. Most people do not budget enough in their retirement income plans to cover the costs of medical care, from wellness visits to long term care.   Clients often insist they can afford or don’t believe they will need long term care expenses,  but often are mistaken.  You can see this article for a flavor of those issues.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/can-i-afford-in-home-elderly-care/   Medicare Advantage plans can provide more extensive coverage, but they often come with higher premiums. The average out-of-pocket healthcare cost for most people is $300,000 throughout retirement.

Social Security may disappear.  A final retirement myth is that social security will cover or mostly cover a retirees needs.  Nearly 90% of Americans depend upon Social Security to fund at least a part of their retirement, according to a Gallup poll, making this federal program a lifeline for Americans. Social Security does have some financial challenges. Since the early 1980s, the program took in more money in payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits, and the surplus went into a trust fund. However, the enormous number of Baby Boomers retiring made 2020, saw the first year the program paid out more money than it took in.

To compensate, it has had to make up the difference with withdrawals from the trust funds. As the number of retirees continues to rise, the surplus may be depleted by 2034. At that point, the Social Security Administration will rely on payroll taxes for retiree benefits. Assuming Congress doesn’t find a solution before 2034, benefits may be reduced or severely impacted.

Saving for retirement is challenging but focusing on the facts will help you remain focused on retirement goals, and not ghost stories. Your retirement planning should also include preparing and maintaining your estate plan.  This is an excellent time to sit with your financial advisor to determine whether your retirement planning is safe from these three myths.

Reference: Auburn.pub (Dec. 13, 2020) “Let’s Leave These 3 Retirement Myths in 2020’s Dust”

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When to Take Social Security?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Waiting to File for Social Security Benefits Is Hard, but Payoff Is Sweet” asks you to imagine if, when you were a child, your mom baked your favorite pie and made you an offer. She could serve you a piece of pie right then and let you eat it. Alternatively, if you waited until after dinner, you’d get a bigger slice. Or, if you could wait until bedtime, your piece would be even larger. And not just that day, but for the rest of your life.

Every time you had pie for dessert, the size of your piece would be based on the decision you made that one day.

There are many justifications for taking the smaller piece of pie right away, when offered. Many people want to begin their retirement as soon as possible, and they want or need the Social Security income to do so. Some want to claim their benefits and invest the money to further grow their nest egg. Many people are concerned that the Social Security trust fund will be depleted before they get their share.  Others are concerned about health and whether they will receive Social Security for very long. Finally, there are some who just aren’t aware of how much bigger their monthly payment could be if they waited.

While you can get your benefits as early as 62, that choice, can mean a permanent reduction in benefits of up to 30% less than what you could receive by filing at your full retirement age (FRA). Retirees who file after their FRA receive a delayed retirement credit of 8% per year until they turn 70.

Admittedly, eight years (from 62 to 70) is a long time to wait to tap into this significant income stream. Most seniors would jump at the chance for more money, particularly as many baby boomers face these challenges that could put even the best-laid income plans to the test in retirement:

Longevity. The longer you live, the greater the chance that your savings will have to endure multiple financial storms, such as increased taxes, inflation and costly health care issues as you get older. The Social Security Administration estimates that the average 62-year-old woman born in 1958 can expect to live another 23½ years, and a man with the same birthdate can expect to live another 20⅔ years. That’s a long time to have to make your money last. However, if you maximize your Social Security benefits by earning delayed retirement credits, you’ll always have that guaranteed income.

Low interest rates. In the current low-interest environment, the return on “safe” investments, such as CDs, bonds, and money market accounts, won’t protect you from inflation. Thus, one of the best investments that retirees can make right now isn’t really an investment at all, but rather it’s growing their Social Security payments by delaying to take them.

Continuing to work.  Many seniors are continuing to work  well past traditional retirement ages to make ends meet.  Taking Social Security while still working may result in devastating tax losses.  It may make sense to delay Social Security until completely retired.

Decline in employer pensions. The retirement savings system in the United States traditionally has been built on three pillars: Social Security, a workplace pension and individual savings. However, over the past two decades, many employers have stopped offering pensions. As a result, the full responsibility for retirement investing has been shifting to employees with defined contribution plans. However, 40.2% of older Americans now depend on Social Security alone for income in retirement. Only 6.8% receive income from a defined benefit pension, a defined contribution plan, and Social Security. Fidelity Investments also reports that the median 401(k) balance in the first half of 2019 was $62,000 for savers in the 60 to 69 age group.

Ask an elder law attorney who practices in Social Security matters to help you make some calculations to determine your “break-even” age, which is when you’d come out ahead by waiting instead of claiming early. If you haven’t already, sign up with the Social Security Administration to get an estimate of your retirement benefits at 62, 67, and 70, using their online benefits calculator.  You may also consider speaking with a financial advisor who can evaluate opportunities to earn greater income with money in hand with earlier Social Security.

If your objective is to land the biggest possible piece of pie — and you can manage it — waiting is the name of the game.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 21, 2020) “Waiting to File for Social Security Benefits Is Hard, but Payoff Is Sweet”

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