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How to Write a Will JoyfullyToday I have encountered 3 acquaintances who are all dealing with different kinds of loss. A husband whose wife is suffering from a stroke. A woman whose nephew is suffering from a mental illness. Someone who has just buried her mother a few short weeks ago and is thankful that she got to celebrate her loved mum’s life with a funeral. She is also her mother had taken the time to write a will and have everything in order.

Everyone has a story of loss. We are all going to die. I recall the tombstone in an Irish cemetery that said, “Meet me in heaven”. That’s a joyous thought to Christ followers who accept the gift of Resurrection Sunday that we celebrated last month.

April was ‘Make a Will Month’ and is something that shouldn’t be shied away from but how on earth are you supposed to write a will while being joyful?

1. Writing and Signing a Will Document Will Not Kill You

An l997 University of Guelph study discovered 20% of farmers did not have a will for reasoning, “if I make a will then I will die.” Pretty strange logic if you ask me. Writing a will did not kill my mother at 65, an asthma infection did. During the season of her passing, (she was palliative for 2 weeks) her new drafted will was not signed, as she was comatose. Even the best laid out transition plans are derailed when new documents are not signed.

write a will - signature

2. Is Your Current Will Signed?

After you write a will, you need to make sure it is signed. Is your current copy signed? Do it. Remember to finish off the work you started with your lawyer. It will likely take 3 visits to the law office. One to draft the will or update your current one. A next visit to talk about the new draft to make sure it meets your intentions. Finally, a third visit to sign the will and take your copy home to read to your family. Ask on the first call to make your appointment what the range of costs is going to be. The more complex your will is, the more expensive, but it is still a worthy investment.

3. Seriously Elaine, Read it to My Family?

This is where the joy part comes in. Most folks I know don’t relish surprises. When you drafted your will you had to choose a trustworthy executor. Hopefully, this is an adult successor or adults in your family circle who are good with details, timely, and accountable for their actions. One of our executors is a lawyer family member plus our successor. In order to get ready to execute a will with timely skill, it helps to know what is in it. Our son knows which law office holds the original will and where the copies are in my office. When people know the plans, you have upon your death, you get to explain your intent as to why you laid out your wishes the way the will states. This is a healthy conversation where you get to talk about your “why” in how you did your will.

4. Eliminate ANY Confusion of Terms

I recently coached a farm family who found an older will years after the father’s passing. This created huge conflict when the family realized that Dad had changed his original intentions. Are folks allowed to change their plans? Yes. The problem is when dead people’s wishes keep fueling the fire of conflict for those beneficiaries who have made financial decisions based on the current reality of the legal will presented.

I am not a lawyer, and this column is not to be taken as legal advice. I leave that good work to my CAFA colleagues who are excellent agricultural lawyers.  It is a good idea to destroy old copies of old will documents.

write a will - clarify terms

5. Educate Your Executors

Use an executor checklist to get ready to be a great executor. This document from Laura McDougald-Willams is a great starting point. She’s a rural lawyer who believes in getting ready. All lawyers I have met say “No way” to handwritten wills, so take your handwritten wishes to a legal office and have a legal will written up.

6. Watch “Finding Fairness in Farm Transition”

The “Finding Fairness in Farm Transition” video on YouTube at “Elaine Froese Farm Family Coach”. I suspect you feel that writing a will with joy is impossible because you and your spouse are fighting about what to give your children. Firstly, you can draft your own will if your spouse refuses to do theirs. The deceased who dies intestate (without a will) is the one that is going to throw the other spouse into chaos!

I embrace the definition of fairness as “helping everyone be successful.” Ask each of your beneficiaries to tell you what they expect from your estate, and ask “What does fairness look like to you?” Your assets are yours. You get to choose regardless of the expectations of adult beneficiaries.

7. Find Joy in Giving Gifts with a Warm Hand and Tell the Story Behind Them

Don’t forget the heritage gifts from the garden plants. My mother had an amazing lily collection that met sudden death when sprayed with Roundup. I was not asked if I would like to transplant her decades of work to my garden.

I did receive her mink coat 5 years before her passing, with her blessing, and I wear that coat with great memories of my mom’s love for me. The new Swedish book on “death de-cluttering” says at age 65 we should downsize our stuff as a gift to our children so that they don’t have to wade through it when we pass on.  When you write a will, you can add a letter or list of possessions that you wish to go to certain folks. It would be helpful for the executor to have a copy of this list. I asked my family which pieces of art they would like and was surprised that only one piece was valued by my sister, and one by my children. Your treasured stuff might be junk to others!

8. Joy Comes When You Know You Have Enough Money

Outdated wills were made decades ago when interest rates were different and land values much lower. A good financial plan to carry you into your nineties is wise. If you are going to run out of money, check with your beneficiaries and children to see who is going to help you continue to pay bills as you age and require more care. “That was then, and this is now” may be the response to promises you made when finances were flush and bread was under a dollar! Have a conversation being very transparent about your financial concerns with your family, and your financial planner. Remember to support charities if you have the means to do so.

write a will - joy in having enough money

If you are like the 53% in my seminar who did not have a will, I challenge you to get it done. Email me to tell me your will is signed, and I will mail you a copy of my award-winning book “Planting the Seed of Hope.”

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
“Elaine helped me allocate $1 Million of assets the night I listened to her. Elaine’s presentation brings value to the use of my services in my office.”
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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