“I was not able to talk for over two years about what happened with my grandfather,” a young farmer confides as he describes a bitter battle of transferring farm assets and land titles with his father’s father to him.
I am concerned about the many threads of conversations across farm audiences this past year that weave a sad tale of loss, grief, and exasperation with those farmers who are over eighty and are not finishing their farming careers well.
Leaving a lasting legacy as a farmer is not just about money and land. It also involves how you wish to be remembered for your character, and how you want to resolve conflicts before your passing. Do you want a family tree that is broken or one that is flourishing? Do you realize that the next generation and the younger farmers are just as passionate about being a great farmer as you were in your late twenties?
What is stopping you from gifting and transferring farm assets with a warm and generous open hand rather than a clenched fist?
I have my hunches.
1. Money Equals Security
You are afraid that you will not have enough to live on for the next 20 years, even though you have $500K in the bank, and shares in the company. You are not even enjoying the wealth you have now because your health keeps you housebound.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was quite right when he said: “your health is your wealth.”
Your pension income, your debt free living, and your personal wealth will keep you going. Why not transfer those farm assets and see the pride of ownership shine on your grandson’s face? Great family relationships ensure that even if you are close to dying or broke, your loved ones will not “put you out on the street…or gravel road!”
2. Losing Control is Hard
Your friends are all dying, and you certainly cannot control that. Facing death is hard for you, so you deny the invitations to update wills and invoke the Power of Attorney that will protect your affairs with your trusted advisor now. Is holding on the only thing that gives you a sense of power and control over your destiny?
I would choose to be rich in relationships over being a lonely land baron any day.
Families are supposed to be a sanctuary of love and nurture, not nasty fight centers of conflict avoidance and deep hurt.
How about extending the hand of forgiveness and forging a newly reconciled chapter in your family? How about dying without any regrets?
3. Hard Times Could Happen Again
You recall the depression as a young person who struggled. You are proud of the wealth you have built. You might sense that others see you as greedy, but you do not care anymore. Your heart is so hardened that not even your wife’s pleading for family connection and harmony can get you to budge. Your word rules the day. You think interest and debt are evil, but do you realize that transfer of assets to your son, daughter, and grandchildren, could be a big boost to debt servicing capacity of the next generation. Your young grandchild can get young farmer rebates and loans that he or she can manage. They were not born in the early eighties to remember high-interest rates, but they are financially astute and smart managers. Please trust them!
[Tweet “#Farmers: here are 8 ways to leave a lasting #farm #legacy.”]
4. Communication is Hard to Restart Once Broken
You are desperate to have some form of communication, but unfortunately, the chaotic conversations of TV sitcoms replace the voices of your family members.
We honor the fact that you have worked hard, struggled, and overcome many of the stresses of agriculture. We do not see workaholism and family dictatorship as a badge of honor. The younger generation is much more collaborative in their approach. If you do not wish to help them get started in building equity with the transfer of your asset, they will seek non-family joint venture partners.
5. Character and Legacy
What do you want to be written on your headstone? How would you like to be remembered? Are there special possessions like a gun collection, tools, or cars that you might like to share stories about with your beneficiaries? There is a song that says “when it is all said and done, things will just not matter.”
Pinball Clemons spoke to the Canadian Young Farmers Forum, and he said farmers are superheroes. He also noted that strong, healthy families are the foundation of everything else going right in the world. Our rural towns need strong families and farm businesses in order to be sustainable and thrive. Imagine if every farmer in their eighties took their legacy to heart, and did the things to finish well.
What would it look like to have grandparents celebrating the success of their farming children and grandchildren?
6. It is Not All or Nothing
Wealth can be transferred in stages, but a plan needs to be legally binding and well thought out for tax planning and meeting expectations of all generations. It is not a “you win; I lose” type of scenario. There are many creative options available when you use a great team of advisors who understand your intent and why you are making or avoiding certain decisions. Farmers are fiercely independent entrepreneurs. The new crop of leaders is going to use a collaborative approach, team up with non-family and seek out new innovations.
7. It is Not Cool to be a Laggard
Remember how good it felt to finally get that new or “gently used” piece of equipment to make your farm tasks easier and be more efficient in your work? The folks who seek new tools early are called the early adaptors, and they are the ones that see profits first, long before the laggards, the last ones to change or even know what happened. Be cool. Be someone who is ahead of the game, rather than the unwise one who is left behind. Use common sense and your wisdom of your years, to be adaptable and trust your team of advisors to help you finish your farming career well.
8. There is Still a Place for You on the Farm
You will never fully retire from farming, but your role as you age is now different. Take on the position of an elder mentor. Be the fellow who folks like to come for a historical perspective on how to be resilient, and yet practically optimistic about the future of agriculture.
I have some very wise, well-balanced over seventy farm coach clients. I just wish I could clone their skills and personalities to inject a sense of hope for those younger farmers who are feeling so stuck with a grandparent that refuses to finish well.
What is your choice going to be? I hope it is to choose to resolve conflict and leave a great farm family legacy.
Elaine, thank you for addressing some of these tough issues for farm families and the senior generation. May the seniors who mentor younger people in their families and communities be examples that result in others having the courage to do the same. They will experience great loads being lifted from their shoulders.
Elaine, thanks for your good work! I always enjoy reading your posts.
I know farming families that want to be fair to children and grandchildren as they pass their legacy along, but they wonder how to be fair when some children are more involved in the farming than others. Problems also arise if the farmer thinks the next generation really is not as passionate, hard-working, or smart. Maybe you’ll help with some of these issues in the future. Many thanks!
Hey Elaine, just enjoy your posts.I am thinking about my father, how he came out to drive each boys combine for a day each year. Sometimes soybeans, sometimes corn which he had never farmed himself. This year on his 85th birthday my son invited grandpa out to harvest some oats. He climbed on, went one round and got back into his pickup…the itch was scratched! Content. Another thing I appreciate about my parents is their desire to give with a warm hand. They are skipping us kids (for now) and giving their 21 grandchildren a gift now that is enough for a down payment on a house or buying a nice vehicle. They are enjoying watching what that is doing and feel blessed.
Thanks for the memories – your words are so accurate and honest – the requests to update are required in today’s world – not to survive but if not current they may have no value and your dreams will vaporize in front of all the family.
Get current up to date documentations NOW!
I am 84 years old – been there and done that!! Now my family laugh and joke with me as I reminisce – I survived and they see me alive!!!
I Like your article Grandpa, do you want to finish well.
Helpful words and insights for many farm families Elaine. And equally so for those who live off the farm. Generational issues are still a challenge.