How to be Prepared for Planning Your Farm Legacy
Farmers often stop me in the hall of conferences to ask deeper questions that are keeping them awake at night. The most common question is “Elaine, how do we even get people to the table to talk about the farm legacy? My parents are refusing to talk, and my grandparents are even more stubborn!”

Farm families are stuck because they give in to procrastination and fear of conflict. If you want something really badly, how persistent are you willing to be to get the answers to your “burning questions?” Love does not read minds. Your farm legacy will not happen unless you commit to act, get clarity of expectations for each generation, and set accountable timelines. Everyone MUST do the work of talking.

So let’s dig in with practical approaches.

1. What Do You Want?

Name your income stream for the next 20 to 30 years as founders, and as young parents. What do you need (not want) for family living expenses? The dollar data is important for all generations. Grandparents may be holding tight to gold, cash, and land because they survived the depression and have money “security” issues, or power and control issues. Do you know what it cost you to live in 2016? Check your bank statements.

2. Where Are You Going to Live?

If founder Dad can’t give up access to the shop and Mom wants to be off the main yard (Grand Central Station of activity) then you have a spousal fight on your hands. Each couple needs to be clear about where and why they want to live at a certain spot. If a new house needs to be built for under $300K, who is paying for that? Notice I gave you a budget for the house because farm homes don’t make money.

3. How Are You Going to Service Debt?

The founders don’t want to burden the next gen with crazy debt. Merle Good’s presentation at Farm Tech talked about creative equity sharing with corporations so that the parents have cash flow and shareholder loans. Most founders I meet don’t expect their business heirs to buy the whole farm (they can’t afford to) but do expect some debt leveraging. It also helps if founders have the “personal wealth bubble “ beyond the farm assets to draw income from and gift to non-biz heirs. So, what level of debt are you willing to service? Have you been to your lender of choice as a young farmer to see what you can manage?

[Tweet “9 questions #farmers need to ask themselves when planning their #farm legacy and #succession.”]

4. What Will Your Roles be as the Farm Grows?

How big is big enough? Does granddad want a position as wise elder, and can he transfer assets with a warm hand rather than a cold one? Does grandma want a life estate in her house, and then move to more care in a senior’s home when she needs it? Does dad want to become the hired man again? Does mom want to travel with a girlfriend? (Dad loves to farm, not much travel for him!) Does the daughter-in-law or son-in-law have a voice in the transition plan at the beginning stages? Who is going to take over the financial role of book-keeping? Who is the ultimate decision maker for management? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each farm team player? Roles and responsibilities change as we age, so pay attention to the spoken expectations of your farm team. Remember, job descriptions, performance appraisals worked on the oil patch, and now those same skills need to be transferred to your farm to be more professional and aware.

5. What do We Tell the Non-Farm Heirs to Help Them Understand That They Aren’t Getting a Raw Deal?

I don’t make these questions up, these are real questions folks ask me as a coach. The fairness issue is about how the estate will be handled, and what legacy opportunities the farm succession or business continuance plan will give the non-business heirs. What do you owe your children? What support is, or has the farm cash already given to the family? Is there greed and entitlement issues that need to be talked about openly? A college education is worth $200K if it was paid for by parents.

6. How Do We Protect Our Hard Earned Wealth From Spousal Breakup?

Do you have separate farm corporations that partner?  Divorce fear keeps people in the dark for decades. I have seen this happen where the parents don’t transfer assets until they see what happens for the first 25 years, and even then there is no guarantee that the marriage will last. My encouragement is to have a culture of love and respect for all family couples and let everyone voice their farm vision. Non-farm kids can also add insight and great wisdom to the planning conversations. See my blogs on divorce.

7. Download the Farm Family Toolkit

You need to have a toolbox to work from. If you start here, you’ll have my coaching on paper to start getting organized to have more robust conversations. You have to talk and listen respectfully to each other. The talking is the work. A recent client relayed to me that her lawyer was impressed by how many issues were clear to the family BEFORE the lawyer visit, so much so that the family saved hundreds of dollars in fees because they came to their advisor table prepared.

8. Talk to Yourself About All of the Points Above

Get clear on what your needs, wants, and expectations for transition and legacy are. “I think, I feel, I need, I want …” is a good script. Then date your spouse and talk with them. It helps if couples are aligned with what they value and envision for the next chapter of their lives. Then set a date for a family transition exploration meeting. Neutral zones like boardrooms at the accountant or a hotel work well unless the family home is workable. Bring your flipchart, a talking stick, post-it notes, and your best character. Hire a facilitator if you want to ensure the dialogue is kept safe and respectful. Hire a babysitter to care for kids off-site. Meet for 3 hours with the first 2 hours to explore the issues, and the last hour to craft a “next steps” list. Photograph the flipchart notes with your smartphones. Email the action list to everyone, and set target dates for completion of all the action items. Set a date for the next meeting. $50 fine to those who cancel. Families who meet regularly are 21% more profitable, so get going!

9. Build a Binder to Organize All of the Vital Plans

The action list, accounting /tax, wills/estate, lifestyle plan (income streams, financial plan), insurance, business plan (vision for the farm), etc. This planning binder will be your “go to” document holder as you build your team of advisors and have more meetings to get clarity.

For our 1992 succession, this took 6 months and only 3 meetings. For our 2017 succession, we’ve had 1 meeting with our coach so far, and we are moving off the main yard in 2020.  Ravage my website for more help tools. Also, I want to hear your success stories, so please feel free to get in contact with me!

Fixing Your Time Stress Mess

60 minutes

Workaholics will discover helpful strategies for managing their time stress. Gain understanding for the tensions of your age and stage on the farm. Learn why some problems are not solvable, but just need to be managed as polarities. Self-renewing people are joyful and productive producers.


Rave reviews

“A joy to work with, heard loud and clear. When the farmers laughed or asked a great question, I knew they were listening and really wanted to learn from her. Her tips were easy to understand. It was just about understanding that conflict happens, and to have the confidence in yourself to ask for what you want. In the glowing review from farmers after her presentation, I knew they had heard that loud and clear.”
Maddy Berner, Event Planner & Communications Coordinator, National Milk Producers Federation National Milk Producers Federation
“I wanted to say a HUGE thank you for your virtual kitchen table chat with Arlan Academy. My wife and I signed up as it was exceptionally relevant to our current journey with potentially transitioning to her parents’ farm. The session was able to cover so many aspects of these crucial conversations and hearing you speak to both sides of the conversation was eye opening for my own perspective on this topic. It seemed to be very well attended and sounded like there were many other people who would echo my thoughts and feelings on it.”
N. Oakley, Farmer, Ontario
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Don Forbes, Forbes Wealth Management
“I recently joined in and listened to your Healthy Farmer Agriwebinar for FMC. I truly enjoyed hearing your perspective and even went and grabbed my Mom, away from her work, to come and listen in on some of your main points as well! One area that really stood out for me, both personally with our own succession plans and with our clients, was your discussion involving "Instant Influence" and how ready are you to change? I loved this concept!”
Annessa Good, FCC Transition Specialist, Alberta
“Elaine Froese truly is the Farm Whisperer. With her big heart and stern resolve, she guides families through uncharted waters and helps them arrive safely at their desired destination. She has been there, done that, and has helped hundreds of families come out on the other side. With your family and your farm legacy on the line, you owe it to yourself to start this conversation. You do not need to do it alone. Let Elaine Froese guide you through. Your legacy is being written day by day. How will you be remembered?”
Tracy Brunet, Host of The Impact Farming Show & CEO of Farm Marketer
“You speak like you’ve been sitting at our kitchen table! You know our family issues well. I am feeling more comfortable understanding what we now need to do. Elaine Froese is real.”
Audience Member,
“I attended the meeting you spoke at in Stratford Ontario recently. We held an emergency family/farm meeting today because of issues that I had enough of. We used a 'talking stick' like you recommended and wrote a chart of rules. The rest of the family thought the idea that we needed a meeting was worth rolling their eyes over, until we got started. The younger ones were quick to clue in that they now have an opportunity to be bluntly honest. The older ones took a bit longer to believe they could truly say what they think. In the end, the meeting needed two sessions because there was so much to talk about… and so many things people didn't realize were a big deal to the others. Your lessons and encouragement have given us the tools we need to get to a better place in our relationships and our business. Truly thankful.”
Kim Martin, Dairy Farmer, Ontario
“Helped me develop my framework to start having constructive and meaningful conversations around the farm.”
Tennille Wakefield, Farm Partner
“Some great lessons, Elaine! You continue to do some remarkable and potentially life-changing work.”
James Mitchell, Principal, Conversations Consulting
“Our family had a good farm meeting yesterday afternoon. Your Fairness video was a great topic of discussion. One of the action items after the meeting was to have my two non-farming siblings watch the video before the next big meeting they are involved with on the farm. It will be a great conversation starter as we catch them up on our current plan. As they are younger, we also hope it will help them to ask new questions that may not have been on their mind.”
G.G., Farm Family Legacy Coach, Alberta
“Elaine gives me excellent tools that help me work with my clients!”
Laurianne Osmack, Financial Planner / Partner, Doell Osmak Wealth Management
“She has a sense of “knowing” quickly what is happening in the family dynamic. Her messages to her audiences drive home what needs to be done next to solve the complex issues of farm transition and conflict resolution.”
Audience Member,
“Eye-opening. Excited to open the door of communication with my spouse and farm family.”
Ashley Hoppe, Farm Partner
“The Strong Farms, Strong Families session gave farm families an opportunity to meet face to face with Elaine Froese... hear her own story, experiences and skill set. From this information packed session and related materials, families could identify areas of success in their journey and other places they need assistance. The greatest take away was that participants could see that Elaine Froese is someone they can trust with the things that they hold most precious.... their family and their farm.”
Nancy Atkinson, Nobleford Ag Society, Alberta
“Elaine’s real-life scenarios help her audiences know they are not alone, knowing there are creative solutions to help them get the life on the farm they have always wanted.”
Audience Member,
“A long time female client who had refined the art of procrastination was so moved by the end of your presentation that she accepted your permission to “drop the bananas.” She contacted me soon after for an appointment to do some planning which included the selling of the family “Century Farm.” A very, very emotional decision on her part that was not likely to have occurred without your presentation.”
Don Forbes, Forbes Wealthy Management
“I just have to say… that your work is amazing and I have never forgotten your teachings from our session in Williams Lake at TRU. It is super important work. I know so many people going through the trauma of succession. I hate to use that word, but I was an “out-law” and know it can get terrible. I continue to forward your emails on to others. Keep doing what you do! You are amazing. You kind of walk into the fire regularly… and with a smile. Proud to have met you.”
Megan, BC Rancher
“As my husband and I eagerly started the course we were optimistic and excited to be taking this next step in our Farm Transition. We were starting to question ourselves and whether or not we were just being selfish and greedy, and if this Farm Transition was still an option for us. We barely got through the first Module and were already having such a huge relief. As we moved through the modulus there were so many times that we just sat back with our hands in the air and thought YES. My husband and I would smile with relief because all of the concerns that we have been struggling with were relevant and came up in the modules. We really enjoyed the course and are excited to move on to the next stages to find our farm resolution.”
Shannon Gilchrist, “Get Farm Transition Unstuck” online course participant
“My hubby farms with 2 brothers and parents, and it’s become a really toxic place. No communication, no respect, etc. Twelve months ago, my husband’s brothers told him they don’t want to work with him anymore and offered him a pay out. His parents did nothing to stop it! He had no choice but to leave. Three months later, we moved off the farm and into town. He has been offered heaps of jobs and is now truck driving and carting hay and grain. We have tried communicating with his parents about what happened but they are not interested. So basically my hubby has lost his family. Very sad but we as husband and wife are overall in a good place and moving on to create our own life. Please continue on with all your wonderful work in helping families on the farm. I continue to tell any farmers I know about you, that they must ‘google’ you, and read your books.”
Donna, Farmer, Australia

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