Something more important than money

Farm Forum

The topic of these columns is obviously estate planning. But, this subject broaches something far more valuable than just the property/value that constitute the estate. Yes, money does matter. But it is far from the most important thing in life. In the next few columns, I am going to delve into what really matters … the family itself. This is really the only thing that will drive you to finally getting around to talking to folks like me and accomplishing anything meaningful. Dollars and acres are all good and fine, but I highly doubt that they transfer readily into the afterlife. They are left behind for the benefit of the ones we love. Hopefully intact and without undue family tension as the property finds its way to the next generation(s).

After all, what good is everything that you and previous generations have toiled so hard and long to accumulate if it just causes grief amongst those who receive it? Please put things into perspective and concentrate on the why you need to plan versus what to do with your property. Dedicate some serious thought and get some input from family. If you think it is a bit uncomfortable discussing these topics now, can you imagine how uncomfortable your loved ones will be sorting it all out later? And, hopefully remaining a functional family.

Please, do not underestimate — nor take for granted — the value of family. Yes, many, if not all of your immediate family members may frustrate or even irritate you on a regular basis. It is indeed true that you cannot pick your family, but they are your family nonetheless. Like it or not, every family member directly affects and influences the others and ultimately makes each of you what you individually are. Could you really imagine life without having had the benefit of all they had to offer? Good, bad, or in between. Believe me, it is an awfully cold and lonely world without anyone there to turn to. At times you may think it would be a heck of a lot easier without them. Trust me … it is not.

Estate planning would be better termed family planning and amounts to an ongoing process. Conditions are constantly changing and now is the time to cement our relationships before circumstances beyond any of our control make this difficult or worse … impossible. Communication and proper documentation ensures that everyone in the family will know exactly where they stand. You will now have a decided sense of peace and calm as much uncertainty and apprehension is removed.

There is more than enough tension just getting along as individuals with each of our own quirks and peccadillos to be dealt with. Absolutely no sense in building more strain by letting things bubble just below the surface that can be easily avoided with some simple communication, cooperation, and planning.

This applies to all family members. Not just those who are active on the farm. The off-farm kids may be busy with their lives whether nearby or far away, but they still retain a connection to where they were raised and — although it may not be voiced — wonder how they fit in. Obviously, those on the farm are concerned that all of their efforts and dealing with those on the farm on a daily basis will ultimately be rewarded. This is exactly why discussion is needed and viable plans put into place.

I will attempt to give a brief perspective of the different family members in the next few columns to consider. Perhaps providing some insight, understanding, and hopefully harmony.

Dennis Foster has been helping families with financial and estate planning needs for 25 years. He welcomes comments and questions and can be reached at 605-887-7069 or