At 61, my life expectancy is 86. The math says I have a quarter of a century left to create a legacy, help others transition, and mentor the next generation. I am also now a grandmother who delights in reading Penny Grace stories, rocking her to sleep, and sharing her giggles. Life is precious.
Recently I was coaching and speaking to cranberry growers, many who are in their 70’s and 80’s and still attending the AGM of their industry. I was also party to the succeeding generations angst about founders who are not willing to let go of the reins of power.
This begs the question: “When is Dad or Mom going to let go of ownership?” But maybe we need to ask a different question: “What does a good day look like to you on the farm as you continue to age?” The transfer of labour, management, and ownership can happen in stages over time, but it will happen, either intentionally with good planning and agreements or by death.
6 Reasons Why the Aging Founding Farmers are Hanging On:
1. They Don’t Realize 10 Years Have Passed
They are busy with farm operations, and they are too busy to plan. Okay, announce each member of the farm team’s age, and set a date for a discovery meeting to talk about the transition. Use an outside facilitator if you think it would help to keep discussions safe and respectful.
2. They Believe the Myth “If You Stop Farming or Retire, You Will Die”
Some older farmers have bought into the myth that if you stop farming or retire, then you will die soon after. Hogwash. Your intent is to keep the aging founder engaged and “in the loop” with the happenings of the farm business. You also want to have your name on some equity so that you can leverage your growth vision.
3. They are Paralyzed with Fear About Inheritance Fights
They don’t want you to know that their current will divides the farmland base into 3 equal parts with all their heirs, including the non-business heirs. Yikes! It is 2018; it is time to be aware and clear about the contents of the business founder’s will. Who are the executors? Who has power of attorney? What is the consequence of the trusts that are set up? There are many questions to get expectations sorted out on the table because your farm business cannot afford surprises.
As a farm family coach, I often hear that parents don’t want their children to fight. That is not the problem. The issue is the mindset that conflict is bad. Conflict is a normal part of life and is not bad. What is bad is unresolved conflict or the avoidance of finding workable solutions for all parties involved. Read my blog about Finding Fairness in Transition.
4. They Are Unsure of Where Their Income is Going to Come From
Because they’ve sunk every dollar back into the farm. This lack of a personal wealth bubble has the parents feeling strapped. Tell them it is high time to seek out an ag. smart financial planner (fee for service who won’t pressure them to buy investments). Folks sleep better at night when they know that they won’t outlive their resources.
My financial planner who is a member of the Canadian Association of Farm Advisors was able to run my numbers and assure me that I am good with funds until I am 102. You can also start tracking your family living expenses and cash flow to understand what the realistic expectation is for future living costs.
5. They Don’t Want to Move From the Main Yard
Okay, you can take ownership and give them a life estate to stay longer, or better yet, you can source other options that will be activated if and when the elder folks need assisted living. I suspect the reluctance to move is more about who is going to deal with mom’s great collection of stuff or dad’s history of being on that property for over 6 decades. Folks can let go of many things when they feel that what they are moving towards is more beneficial or exciting for them. Are you going to help volunteer to downsize? Many of the farm folks that have changed living sites tell me that they wish they would have done it much earlier!
6. They Have Not Accomplished All of Their Legacy Pieces
When a farmer retires, what remains is their farm legacy, and for many founding farmers, they do not have all of the legacy pieces that they expected to be in place by this time of their life. I met a grandfather who was busy making sure that his grandson would have a piece of his original farmland. This legacy building was very important to his plan, although his other planners may not have agreed with his decisions. Ask the elder couple what they wish to be remembered, what possessions are important for them to pass on with stories attached, and what is their most important value for the family to continue expressing. Letting go of money and land is not the only part of the legacy building.
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How to Founding Farmers Can be More Intentional About the Years Ahead
Recognize What Age Tasks are Important for You in Your Current Decade
For those that are 60 plus, it is about starting over and creating a legacy. Seventy-year-olds still have a lot to contribute to the management and will be good mentors if their opinion is respected. The eighty-year-old crowd takes great pride in ownership, and their letting go will happen when they don’t fear the failure of the next generation, and they feel that their legacy plans will be honoured.
Realize That There are No Guarantees
Farmers embrace avoidance behaviour and hate to make mistakes. Older farmers have seen train wrecks in succession explosions and are fearful of making the wrong decisions for transfer of assets. Build a good team of trusted advisors and work out your plan. Having no plan is a disaster.
Each Day We Live is a Gift
Those of us who have lost loved ones to accidents learned this early in life. Be more present to what is happening today, and don’t dwell on “woulda, coulda, shoulda” attitudes about what happened in the past. Use your warm hands to bless your family with gifts of love, attention, affection, and affirmation.
Love does not read minds. I cannot guess what you need to do to create more certainty for your family business legacy, but you know. It is time to get it done founding farmers.