Where there is a will there’s a way
“Make sure the machinery is all ready to go for seeding by April 20,” quips a well-organized farmer to his trainee son. This benchmark date has served this farm well as a goal to get equipment all in place for smoother seeding. Deadlines help me get this column written in time, even if it happens on my laptop in the passenger side of our vehicle on road trips!
Today I want to propose a very serious deadline for ALL readers. This deadline deals with death — your death. I want you to call your lawyer by Friday of this week, and make an appointment to update or create your will. Even if you are single, make a will!
Why? A will is a document of your intentions and wishes of how you want your estate handled in the event of your death. When there is a will, there is a way to effectively deal with your estate and your intentions. With no will, there is chaos, too much tax, and deep family hurt.
“I can do it later,” just won’t cut it with me. I sat in a circle of young parents and asked how many were “will-less.” Answer: the majority of them. So I gave them my “you need a will” speech. Since that summer meeting, only one young mom has told me that she has acted, and decided on guardians for children, and signed a valid will in a law office.
“Who will care for the children?” is likely a pretty big stumbling block, but get over it. Start some courageous conversations and take action for the well-being of the family you love. Not having a will is very unloving.
“Our will is 20 years old,” is another scary reality for many farm couples. When there is conflict over how the non-farming children will be treated, things just slide, and no new wills are ever created. Not making a decision to change or update your will is still a decision. You’ve just decided not to act.
Many farm families are getting their expensive equipment ready to plant a very promising crop. How about getting your affairs in order to fulfill the very promises you have made to your spouse and heirs?
Your deadline is next Friday.
I am wearied with sad stories of estates that have gone awry. I personally update my will every three years or when there is a significant change in our financial or family dynamics.
I would suggest that you forgo those two large takeout pizzas for $48, and use the cash for your lawyer’s fees. The cost of not having a legal, updated will could be about “half the farm,” if outdated beneficiary benefits are at the expense of the people who are currently creating the wealth on your farm. You’re sure to get your income taxes in order by April 30, so why not get a deadline on updating your will?
I am not a lawyer. I am a farm family business coach who mediates estate conflicts and sits in succession planning meetings with anxious families. Write me a note to tell me that you have acted, and updated your will. I’ll put your name in a draw and give the first three winners a copy of my book. My email is email@example.com. My address is Box 957 Boissevain, MB, R0K 0E0.
While you are talking about your will, ask your lawyer about enduring power of attorney and health care directives. You don’t want your tractor seizing up and dying on the way to plant that bumper crop. Why don’t you want your family to know what your will says to ensure that family communication and expectations for their futures are planned for? This gives all family business members the gift of certainty for their futures. It is impossible to share the contents of a will when the will does not exist!
Don’t think you can just scribble your wishes on the back of a scrap piece of paper. You deserve better than that, as handwritten will cause impossible hassles.
Call the law office, make the appointment, and draft your will.
Sign it, and enjoy the seeding season knowing that you have met your most important deadline…the eventually of planning for your descendants upon your death.
Elaine Froese creates safe spaces for farm family businesses to have courageous conversations. She wants readers to act! Elaine’s award-winning book “Planting the Seed of Hope” would be an awesome Mother’s Day gift. Elaine Froese is a certified coach and member of the Canadian Association of Farm advisors www.cafanet.com.