Estate Planning

Advanced Planning for Farm Succession Saves Family Strife Later

By Margaret A. Lisi, Farm Bureau News Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS  Breaking tradition with the farm stereotype of “strong and silent” is critical to the succession of the family farm.

That premise formed the foundation to Dr. Ron Hanson’s estate planning presentation today at the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting. Hanson spoke to about 75 beef cattle and dairymen as part of an extended cattlemen’s commodity meeting.

“It’s hard to speak about these things, for many reasons,” Hanson said. “Admitting you’ll die, admitting you have favorites among your children, ceding control to the younger generation—these are all difficult subjects and many folks feel it’s easier just not to talk about it.”

Hanson said issues around in-laws, divorce and remarriage add even more points to the prickly subject. However, he said making concrete plans ahead of time is the producer’s “duty,” ensuring a fair, if not equal, distribution of the family farm.

“I don’t have a multi-million dollar operation, but still, this showed me I need to plan,” said Walter Smith, 71, a beef cattle producer from Washington Parish. “I don’t want to control my operation from the grave.”

Smith was representative of the audience, made up almost entirely of producers 60 years old and older. He has gifted some land to his 37-year-old son for his cattle operation, but has other children who work off-farm. Hanson’s presentation strongly addressed equitable distribution among on- and off-farm children. It pushed Smith and his friend Russell Creel, a Washington Parish dairyman, to decide they must address succession with their wives and children sooner rather than later.

Hanson said anyone planning their farm’s succession will need a team of advisors to ensure the complicated transaction is smoothly and correctly handled.

“It’s costly, but it’s money well spent,” Hanson said. “You’ll need an accountant or CPA to handle questions about estate and capital gains taxes, and an attorney to draw up the documents. Having your lender on hand, especially if financing is involved, is critical, as is an estate or financial planner. And it’s wise to have a counselor available if family rifts arise.”

“Ask yourself if you’re looking to pass on wealth or a legacy,” Hanson advised. “Give your children interested in farming enough time to learn and gain experience, while communicating to your entire family your plans for that property and those assets after you die. Trust and openness are key to keeping the family together and family is even more important than that farm.”