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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Everyone Needs an Estate Plan!

Everyone should have an estate plan
Every adult needs an estate plan, don’t wait until you have an “estate.”

Every adult, whether we have a lot of property or not, should have an estate plan.  A client once told me they didn’t need a Will because they didn’t have an “estate.”  They thought it meant substantial wealth, but estate planning is much more than that.

As we go through the many milestones of life, it’s important to plan for what’s coming, and also plan for the unexpected, even beyond the finances. An estate planning attorney works with individuals, families and businesses to plan for what lies ahead, says the Cincinnati Business Courier in the article “Estate planning considerations for every stage of life.” For younger families, having an estate plan is like having life insurance: it is hoped that the insurance is never needed, but having it in place is comforting.

For others, in different stages of life, an estate plan is needed to ensure a smooth transition for a business owner heading to retirement, protecting a spouse or children from creditors or minimizing tax liability for a family.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some milestones in life when you need an estate plan:

Becoming an adult. It is true, for most 18-year-olds, estate planning is the last thing on their minds. However, at 18 most states consider them legal adults, and their parents no longer control many things in their lives. If parents want or need to be involved with medical or financial matters, certain estate planning documents are needed. All new adults need a general power of attorney and health care directives to allow someone else to step in, if something occurs.  Michael Galligan from our office gave a great presentation this summer on this topic.  See here for the video.  https://youtu.be/lZUaMVRRTms  

That can be as minimal as a parent talking with a doctor during an office appointment or making medical decisions during a crisis. A HIPAA release should also be prepared. A simple will should be considered, especially if assets are to pass directly to siblings or a significant person in their life, to whom they are not married.

Getting married. Marriage unites individuals and their assets. In community property states like Texas, it creates the new wrinkle of community property.  For newly married couples, estate planning documents should be updated for each spouse, so their estate plans may be coordinated and the new spouse can become a joint owner, primary beneficiary and fiduciary. In addition to the wills, power of attorney, healthcare directive and beneficiary designations also need to be updated to name the new spouse or a trust. This is also a time to start keeping a list of assets, in case someone needs to access accounts.

If this is not the first marriage, there is an even greater need for an estate plan because there may be children from the prior marriage to plan for.  Remember, your assets don’t go to a surviving spouse just because you are married, so you definitely need an estate plan.

When children join the family. Whether born or adopted, the entrance of children into the family makes an estate plan especially important. Choosing guardians who will raise the children in the absence of their parents is the hardest thing to think about, but it is critical for the children’s well-being. A revocable trust may be a means of allowing the seamless transfer and ongoing administration of the family’s assets to benefit the children and other family members.

Part of business planning. Estate planning should be part of every business owner’s plan. If the unexpected occurs, the business and the owner’s family will also be better off, regardless of whether they are involved in the business. At the very least, business interests should be directed to transfer out of probate, allowing for an efficient transition of the business to the right people without the burden of probate estate administration.  You also want to address these issues.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/the-importance-of-business-succession-planning/

If a divorce occurs. Divorce is a sad reality for more than half of today’s married couples. The post-divorce period is the time to review the estate plan to remove the ex-spouse, change any beneficiary designations, and plan for new fiduciaries. It’s important to review all accounts to ensure that any controlling-on-death accounts are updated. A careful review by an estate planning attorney is worth the time to make sure no assets are overlooked.

Upon retirement. Just before or after retirement is an important time to review an estate plan. Children may be grown and take on roles of fiduciaries or be in a position to help with medical or financial affairs. This is the time to plan for wealth transfer, minimizing estate taxes and planning for incapacity.

In sum, it is important to realize everyone needs to plan.  Don’t wait because you think you don’t need one.

Reference: Cincinnati Business Courier (Sep. 4, 2019) “Estate planning considerations for every stage of life.”

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