Don’t procrastinate on estate planning

Dennis Foster Special to the Farm Forum
Farm Forum

In the last column, I touched on the subject of excuses for not putting any real effort into beginning meaningful discussions on estate planning, let alone, getting to the point of actually taking action in the form of putting plans into place. I said that my favorite excuse is that some folks like to fantasize about the government somehow enacting laws that will solve all their problems. Or, taking the ever popular and never once ever wise “wait and see” what the government is going to do approach. With escalating bitterness in Washington, this seems even more foolish every day.

Another excuse that is understandable yet just as ineffective is letting day-to-day concerns prevent you from moving forward. The we have this or that going on syndrome and will get to it once everything settles down approach seldom sees any success. On a very somber note, I tend to see serious apprehension to starting planning during the growing seasons. There is always something to be concerned about and at the point that I write this, the lack of moisture takes center stage. As dire as this may seem at the moment, we are looking at the possible outcome of one single season. Which quite frankly, we cannot predict with any certainty what will happen anyway. It is what it is.

But, continue to use excuses of any nature and I can and will confidently predict that the absence of comprehensive planning as it relates to the family farm will certainly have consequences. What these consequences will be can and do vary in severity. The moral of the story is that these possible consequences are easily preventable. Why anyone would expose what amounts to a multi-million-dollar business in an already volatile environment to even more risk is beyond reasonable comprehension. Invest millions of dollars in land, machinery, annual inputs and of course your own hard work and the inherent high levels of stress involved. Then just leave it all to chance? Unexplainable, sounds incredibly naïve and, let’s be totally objective here — it is just flat out irresponsible to do so.

If you cannot honestly look the younger generation that is working with you on your family farm square in the eye and assure them that your affairs are properly in order, you have some work to do. Not soon, not next winter, not when you get around to it — nots of any kind are unacceptable. You simply must get the process started. Without a dedicated effort to achieve viable and measurable results that are soundly funded and legally secured with well-drafted and un-challengeable documents, you are doing little more than rolling the dice. Loaded dice at that and not to your family’s favor. I fully realize that this is coming off with a slightly preachy connotation and that it amounts to basically a rant from me. If that is your take on the meaning, then I have hit my mark. I also suffer from doing what others would readily see needs to be done without some firm coaxing. Or, more accurately someone directly pointing out the facts at hand.

This is by far the most important role of an advisor. Putting everything into perspective so everyone can see the light. The numbers and legalities of the matter are easy in comparison. I am now done with my sermon — for this month, but not for long. It has been my observation that there are those who have dutifully attended religious services for many decades that still have not managed to get the basic message. Apparently, folks suffer from a similar learning retention issue with this as well?

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 dennis@nvc.net.