Content ID

253970

Can Their Problem Be Solved?

Submitted by M.K.

Over the past 10 years, my husband and I have been to a few farm estate planning seminars, and we always read articles about estate planning. Then, when we get to our attorney’s office, there seems to be a real disconnect. It seems like he doesn’t understand our situation, and we end up talking about other things that really don’t matter. We also get confused by all the legal language. He has prepared several draft copies for us, but we never sign them. That’s because we don’t like what we see, so we never seem to get the farm continuation issues addressed. Are others as confused as we are? Or is it just us? Should we go to another attorney? It seems like attorneys in rural areas should understand agriculture. Do you have any suggestions?

The Solution:

M.K., you’re asking some very good questions that require me to answer thoughtfully and carefully, but I also need to answer truthfully. I will start by telling you it’s not just you and your husband. Your frustration is pretty common. All professionals, including attorneys, are people with different skill levels and areas of expertise. The process involves working closely with your attorney and, therefore, I completely understand what you are saying. I will start by saying that some attorneys may be outstanding in a certain part of their profession—it’s just that farm estate planning is not one of their natural strengths. Many attorneys have a variety of clients, so it’s tough to know everything. I’ve seen some attorneys who are very knowledgeable but not very good at communicating. I’ve also seen some who are good at communicating but aren’t very knowledgeable in farm estate planning. Also, if farmers are indecisive, that can make it challenging for attorneys. They may be as frustrated as you are.

Switching attorneys does not guarantee an improved situation. Normally, you wouldn’t think of an attorney as a salesperson, but some are, and they claim to be experts at farm estate planning. Sometimes that may truly be the case, but other times I have observed some conversations and recommendations that are questionable. It doesn’t take long before the plan is someone else’s idea and not yours. For example, decisions about cash flows or what is fair need to be your ideas, not someone else’s.  

In a best-case scenario, you have a group of advisers who do the best thing for you, and they are not just scratching each other’s backs. Most legal plans have some basic similar language. What makes it special for you will be a handful of key questions and answers that are documented in your plan. 

To be truthful, there are a limited number of expert farm attorneys who also communicate well. After working with over 300 different attorneys, I can tell you that this is why I do what I do. 

So recognize this concern and attempt to mend this gap that is so frustrating to many farm families while continuing to work with your attorney. With a team approach, good plans can be created. 

I commend you on not just signing any document that you either didn’t like or didn’t understand. I have seen some situations where people would have been better off with no plan than a bad plan. The words in your legal documents need to translate to realistic numbers for the next generation. Usually, if you have a clear idea of what you want, an attorney will be able to do what you ask even if that may not be his or her area of expertise. 

This article was put together by Myron Friesen for Successful Farming magazine.

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