“Our dad is getting older, but I can’t get him to talk about what he wants to see happen to the farm after he’s gone. My sister and I have tried to talk with our brother about it, but he doesn’t want to address the situation either. Something is going to happen someday and the state will decide what happens to the farm.”
“My father has a good succession plan in place, but I still worry about what will happen after he’s gone. One of my four sisters has already said she wants her money right away – if any of the others do, there’s no way I can keep my part of the farm. There are times when I think it would be better if we were left with nothing.”
Statements like these are more often the rule than the exception among farm families. Communication, although essential, is rarely easy, and sometimes those closest to us are the most difficult with whom to have meaningful conversations.
Serious problems can arise for both generations if transfer and succession processes never begin or are never finalized. Everyone has a plan, whether “default” or “intentional.” The default plan is the state law where the farm family lives and the property is located.
The intentional plan is one designed by farm families to carry out their wishes. Proper ownership and management can allow for growth and profitability. That’s why communication between and among farm family members is so important. Identifying issues, developing a plan that is both fair and equitable, and employing the right team of professionals early on in the process can help families realize their goals.
“The art of passing a business asset from one generation to another with minimum business interruption creates its challenges, but can be very beneficial and rewarding to all parties involved if properly done,” says Roy Henry of Henrys, Ltd. in Longford, Kan. “There are many different resources available to help with this process – identify the ones that are best suited to help your family make and implement the decisions that will allow your business to carry on, if that is the goal.”
Individual differences in personality, style, skill and varying expectations will impact discussions with family members directly or indirectly. And when property and other assets come into the picture, a whole new set of dynamics can affect farm family issues and outcomes.
Sometimes it may be best to let issues rest before trying to communicate. Other times, however, issues can’t be allowed to rest, because lack of communication can interfere with daily living. Members of farm families, whether involved in the day-to-day activities of the farm or not, are directly or indirectly affected by farm-family issues and decisions. Each member plays a different role in the family and in the management of the family farm. Each role carries different responsibilities and expectations. Sometimes one person sees his or her roles and responsibilities in one way, while others see them very differently. Different perceptions and expectations can lead to confusion and frustration.