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Should heirs help parents make farm transition decisions?

Agriculture.com Staff 01/14/2009 @ 11:00pm

We're stuck at a major roadblock in trying to preserve our four-generation family farm.

I am an off-farm daughter and believe it's very important for my parents and the family to address questions of succession planning and strategic vision for the future.

My parents evade this question, to the point of claiming health problems in order to avoid meetings I try to schedule with advisers.

My brother, who works on the farm with my parents, tells me he agrees with the need to talk about this, but when it comes time to push Mom and Dad to actually have a meeting, he backs down and won't support me.

It's at the point that Dad just walks out of the room if I try to raise any of the questions with him. We now don't talk as freely as we used to. Mom just shrugs.

I can see where all this is going, and the destination is not looking very attractive. There must be some ostrich genes in our family DNA.

Are there advisers who can help us with this? How can I convince the older generation that we have to plan if the farm is going to have a future?

To answer your first question, yes, competent family business advisers do exist. I have colleagues across the country who, like me, have been working in this area and helping farm families like yours for many years. But getting help from them requires that all family members agree to the process.

Now for your second question. Often, as in your case, convincing the older generation can seem to be an almost hopeless task.

There are many possible reasons for your parents' hesitation (and it's likely both of them are hesitating, not just your dad). Planning transition, for some, is akin to planning for death. The complexity of the process can be daunting, too.

Most likely, though, the biggest stumbling block to making a plan is their worry that they won't do the right thing by their children.

This is where you and your brother could first try to unite and agree on your goals. As long as your parents worry that they would have to choose between your competing desires, they will continue to resist making any decisions.

If you and your brother can express your shared concerns and combined desire to work out a future that satisfies both generations, you could help to take that burden off their shoulders.

It's important to consider the possibility that your parents are struggling with the fair vs. equal trap. You and your brother could accomplish a lot by telling them that you are both willing to help them work out a good solution, as well as compromise your own individual sense of what is right and fair in order to settle on a transition plan that works for everyone involved.

If your parents still refuse -- which is their right -- your options are severely limited, but you'll have tried. Also, your brother should then give strong consideration to his own future and whether he can afford to spend his best years building a future that is undefined and over which he has little or no control.

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