It’s your plan, not your attorney’s

Farm Forum

In my last column I addressed the fact that as you progress in your estate planning endeavors it is best to have a well defined idea of what you would like to accomplish thought out and discussed with all affected family members long before you ever step foot into an attorney’s office. I also alluded to the fact that it is more cost effective and you are ultimately more successful with the assistance of an experienced financial professional specializing in estate planning to help get you to this point.

You and your family will be much better served to now walk into the lawyer and state, “This is who we are, the scope of our operation, and our family dynamics. This is what we would like to see for a final outcome. Please offer your advice and give us some options so we can make this happen.” Rather than going in blindly and saying “What would you do?” Remember this and never lose sight of it or forget it.

This is your family’s plan, not the attorney’s. They are simply very well paid advisors who, if properly trained, will offer you several objective options and then competently draft the documents that will implement your plan and not have an agenda of pushing what they feel is best. This is vitally important as in the end it is your legacy and the ongoing legacy of your family farm that is on the line. A one size fits all approach or having your family farm

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be the latest guinea pig in a super duper, flavor of the month, complicated design of numerous sterile trusts, corporations, and accounting wizardry generally is not the answer. We are not trying to emulate the rich and famous here, we are looking to pass down the family farm fully intact and with each and every family member accounted for, happy with the outcome, and most importantly… able to get along for generations to come.

Fancy footwork and long overcomplicated and quite frankly unnecessary legal maneuvers suit the needs and the bottom line of those drafting these all but completely indecipherable documents and trusts better than they do your family. This may sound like I am beating up on attorneys in general. This is not the case, nor is it my intent as there are some darn good ones out there whose motives are in the right place and who do a great job at putting your family’s interests first-as they should. That being said, there are also more than enough that may have a number of certifications that on the surface look quite impressive. But with this, they tend to get too wrapped up in trying to impress you with all of this knowledge and their ability to navigate and implement the most amazing schemes available.

Is all of this really necessary for most folks? I would have to say probably not, and I have personally seen more of it than I care to see in my career. We have to keep in mind that although these things will work to help potentially reduce some taxes; is it truly cost effective when we consider all of the hoops to jump through and the legal and accounting fees needed to continually feed these plans? And, do we lose sight of what you truly want to achieve in all of the smoke and mirrors that are meant to impress and dazzle even the pointiest nosed IRS auditor?

Personally, I think not. Call me simple, but this is my opinion. Next month I will further assert my opinion by pointing out what I feel you should look for in an attorney and how deal with them.

Dennis Foster has been helping Farm Families with their Estate and Financial Planning needs for over 20 years. He welcomes comments and questions and can be reached at 605-887-3451 or His column is published the first Friday of each month.