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A first-rate farm business

CHERYL TEVIS Updated: 01/28/2011 @ 9:26am Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

Bryan Kirkpatrick couldn’t wait to go back home to farm. “I was sitting in a History of Western Civilization class, and all I could think about was how I wanted to be planting corn and beans,” he says.

So in 1969 he traded in a college degree to partner with his dad, Robert. The two worked hand and glove on the farm near Greentown, Indiana, for 39 years.

“I was fortunate to pick up land from neighbors and to get started using Dad’s equipment,” he says. “After I was renting as much as he owned, we split it 50-50.”

They still were going strong in early August 2008 when Robert, 83, hauled seven semi-loads of corn. “The next thing I knew, three days later Dad was sick and wearing out,” he says.

The 56-year-old realized he needed to ask his dad three decades worth of questions in a compressed time frame. Robert died 19 days later.

“When you’re working so hard, you don’t spend much time thinking about one of you not being there someday,” Kirkpatrick says.

Although his dad had a plan in place, Kirkpatrick and his sister, Janet, found out it could have been improved and updated. “According to the will, I could farm as long as I wanted,” he says. “But I had been afraid to ask too much. I didn’t want Dad to feel I was pushing him out. After he became ill, we talked about it. Now I know he wouldn’t have been upset.”

With help from his attorney and accountant, Kirkpatrick took some defensive steps. “Farmers work hard for their land and the business,” he says. “There are legal steps they can take. Sure, getting help costs money. But it’s their future.”

Plan Is Ongoing

Today Kirkpatrick says he’s gained from the experience. He and his wife, Susan, have an estate plan that they’ve discussed with their three daughters, Andrea, Laura, and Jenna, and with Kevin Breisch, who farms with them.

“I’m fixing it for my kids,” he says. “You have to know where you stand if you lose your business partner.”

With help from an attorney, they’ve studied their options. “You need a good estate planning attorney,” he says. “If you don’t have one, get one. A good accountant is equally important. They work hand in hand.”

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