One of the toughest things to talk about is “how do we treat our children with our assets?” I’ve added some of my farm family coaching experiences to Donna Hasting’s (former family living specialist ) tips:
1. In Theory, You Don’t Owe Your Children Anything
You gave them life, education, love your values and your vision. It’s amazing what young adults will tell their parents about this when they are asked directly. I have heard the children say, “Dad and Mom, please enjoy yourself for once, enjoy what you’ve worked for all your life. I don’t expect any money from you now!”
2. Put Your Thoughts on Paper
Putting your thoughts on paper is a great way to reflect on these ideas and scrap the ones that don’t seem to work. Move slowly on these decisions. Think of it as a work in progress…knowing each draft gets you closer to the finished product. Writing things down doesn’t cast them in stone, but it gives you a perspective to re-visit and ponder. I recommend using a binder that holds all the planning papers .
3. Make Sure Both Spouses Agree
It is crucial that that spouses agree with each other before the children are brought into the discussion. You want to avoid the “family triangle” of pressuring one parent against the values or choices of the other parent. Don’t set dollar values on assets for sale unless you intend to stick by them. Changing prices and changing expectations mid-stream creates a lack of trust.
4. You Both Want to Do the Right Thing
Your children also have some ideas about what you or the farm owes them. Your ideas and your children’s ideas may not agree, but, remember, it is your estate and you built it. Ultimately you make the decisions about who gets what and when. Also consider, that you will likely live another 20 or 30 years and need a great retirement income stream!
5. Consider the Wishes of the Children
Ask them to write a letter indicating what part of the farm, family heirlooms or non-farm estate they are interested in or not interested in. Ultimately it is not what each person wants but what each person can live with that will solve this puzzle.
6. “Why Do I Want to Give This to This Child?”
Doing the right thing can be very tricky. Ask yourself, “why do I want to give this to this child?” Don’t do it if it is because you feel guilty or want to correct a wrong or fix something that happened in the past.
7. Keep Your Children Informed
Once you think you’ve got it figured out, tell your children what you are considering. The feedback you get will give you valuable direction in “tweaking” the final draft.
8. Don’t Keep Secrets
Don’t keep it a secret. Once you know what you are giving the children, to charity and to your retirement…tell the kids while you are still alive to explain- why you did it the way you did. It could save a lot of heartache, unanswered questions and hard feelings after you are gone. Keeping wills secret is not a good thing. In today’s culture, the families who communicate their intent openly will be leaving a greater legacy of understanding with their family.
9. Make Sure Family History Goes With Heirloom Items
If you are giving away heirloom items, or any items, make sure the family history goes along with it. It will mean more to the new owner and help instill a sense of belonging.
10. Ask Your Farming Community
Ask other farm family business owners what they think they owe their children. Listen to their rationale. Read. Consult outside advisors to ask the difficult questions to move the parents and the children along.
Use this outline to guide your children’s thoughts on paper: “Letter to my folks”
Dear Mom and Dad,
I am very grateful for everything you have already provided me with. I am especially thankful that you….
My biggest hope for the transfer of your estate is that….
These are some of the memories tied to things that you own, that I would like to keep as a reminder of our family.
Just stuff that’s important to me:
Farm assets or property:
Non-farm estate items:
I would also like us to find a way to plant a special tree, make a scrapbook, or take a special photo of the farm. Something to mark this new chapter in our lives.
Thanks for your most priceless gift, your love.
Signed __________________ Date:___________
The Chinese have a saying that “talk does not cook rice.” Talking is a good place to start, but ultimately we have to act on our intentions. I also realize that some of you reading this may be 55-year-old children who don’t know what your mother’s will says, and also have 30-year-old kids of your own who want to know what the next plan for your farm business is!