It’s probably safe to say that most families could benefit from estate planning of some sort, but that’s particularly true when it comes to a family-run agricultural operation. Tiffany Dowell Lashmet is an agricultural law specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
“I think the first thing that folks need to do is start having some tough conversations. And listen. I grew up, my granddaddy was a farmer. My daddy is a farmer. I understand. We don’t like to sit around and talk about our feelings, OK I get it. We kind of have to.”
Dowell Lashmet says her family started talking about a year ago.
“Some conversations about OK when my dad and my mom are gone, what’s going to happen then? How are we going to do this? Are we going to own something together? Are we going to divide it up? If we divide it up how will we divide it? Can we afford to come back? Can the farm support my family and my brother’s family? All these kinds of things. Do we want to come back? All these sorts of issues we’ve really had to kind of sit down and lay on the table and try to walk through, what are our goals, what are our options based on the situation that we have?”
Dowell Lashmet points out that different family dynamics can complicate the issues.
“We have a lot of kids that grow up on the farm and then go and move to the city and then we have this whole issue of, are we going to have an absentee landowner or is somebody going to come back home to the farm? How are we going to balance that? It can also create some sweat equity issues when one kid stays home and works with dad. The other kid goes to town. How are the parents going to divide that land up? Because I feel like we sort of been trained that we need to split it equally right? We need it fifty-fifty to be fair. Is that fair? Maybe not.”
Dowell Lashmet stresses the family game plan needs to be formalized in writing.
“I think from there, once you kind of get a plan of where you’re trying to head you need to find a good attorney to really help you put this plan together. There are a number of different tools that you can use for estate planning type information. You can look at business entities like LLCs can be useful, corporations, some people put property into trusts. At a very minimum you need to have a will.”