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Personal perspective: The clock is ticking

Agriculture.com Staff 05/21/2007 @ 2:23pm

My parents weren't the kind of couple who went everywhere together. Mom didn't help Dad in the field. He never went grocery shopping with her.

After Mom's death, Dad seemed to be adjusting. But 10 months later in the predawn hours, he quietly got out of bed, lay down on the living room couch, and died.

It was October 31, 1979. Mom and Dad would have been married 33 years on that date.

It's much more common for the husband to die first. On average, women live at least seven years longer than men. The reality is that more wives will be left alone.

Time seems to accelerate as we age. Just yesterday we anxiously checked the kitchen clock as we got our kids ready for the school bus. Suddenly it's time to meet with the attorney and accountant to complete wills and estate plans, farm transition plans, and review retirement options.

The median age for widows in the U.S. is 59. Women who reach age 65 are likely to live another 19 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It's wise for both spouses to actively manage the household and farm finances. But life is so hectic that many couples divide these chores. Both men and women need to plan for the possibility of being single in retirement. Start Where You Are, by Ruth L. Hayden, advises couples to discuss three scenarios:

1. What if we retire together?
2. What will happen if we divorce?
3. What will happen when one of us precedes the other in death?

Many people know that they could die unexpectedly, but they still do not plan for it. Procrastination is a huge roadblock. New studies indicate that people put things off when they don't feel up to the task.

But getting up to speed is easier than you may think. You'll find more conferences and workshops for women today than ever before.

Annie's Project, a six-week course developed by Extension, has spread to nine states (www.extension.iastate.edu/annie). The University of Illinois has a one-day workshop for women on retirement and estate planning.

Iowa Women in Agriculture is planning a conference July 25-26 called Taking Charge of Your Farm's Future: A Tool Kit for Ag Women. A 60-page booklet will be online.

Manson, Iowa, farm widow Vara Groot says she learned a lot after her husband died two years ago. "Now I know I could have been more help to Merlyn," she says. "But I didn't see myself as integral to the business." (Read her story on pages 28 and 29.)

Recently I received a note from a woman saying her husband had died, and asking for an address change. As I forwarded her request, I wondered if her husband died unexpectedly. Did they have an estate plan? Was their life insurance adequate? Were their kids out of college?

The serious illness of a friend or parent often is a wake-up call. If you need another reason to get started: Chronic procrastination puts your health at risk.

Why wait? The clock is ticking.

My parents weren't the kind of couple who went everywhere together. Mom didn't help Dad in the field. He never went grocery shopping with her.

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