When the Senior Generation Withholds Important Transition Information
Submitted by B.W.
How can my wife and I plan for our future when the senior generation (the farm asset owners) won’t talk about their estate plans? I have one brother and two sisters who have no interest in the farm. My son who’s been farming with us asks, “Dad, do you even know if there is a farm for us after Grandma and Grandpa pass?” How do I get them to tell us their plans?
Your question is one I am asked hundreds of times each year. The answer varies greatly, as we guess the reason for the senior generation’s silence, secrecy, and withholding of important information. That does not diminish the overriding reason for answers in this crucial conversation.
It’s important you role-play the possible conversation. What might your parents say? How might they act? Then create a plan to continue the dialogue.
Timing is important. This is not a conversation for a holiday gathering or between chores. It is best held at their home, both parents present. Begin by sitting down and looking directly at them.
Say, “Dad and Mom, I can’t believe how fast the calendar turns. We’ve been farming together for 30 years. I need to talk with you about your wishes for the transition of this farm.
“First, know I love you and am grateful for all you have done to raise and teach me. Your love has been the greatest gift you could give me. Nothing else is more important.
“Right now, I know nothing of your plans for the farm once you’re both gone, so I assume your attorney will be handling your estate according to your will.
“But I need to tell you, I’ve not been sleeping at night. I’m worried about the future of the farm. I’ve invested years into this farm and now my son is involved. We know your wills determine if the farm can continue.
“This is important. Would you please tell me if you want me to have any involvement in the continuation of this farm? If so, I need to understand now those conditions under which that might happen. That way, I can plan or let you know now if I think I can or can’t do it. So, what do you have planned?”
If there is continued silence, ask, “What are you thinking? What’s keeping you from sharing your plans for the future of this farm?”
Following are excuses I’ve heard and appropriate responses.
Excuse: We do what was done to us.
Response: Remind them that was then, this is now. With three nonfarming siblings, your years on the farm, and another generation involved, it’s important you know what’s planned.
Excuse: We need control.
Response: You’ve not transitioned any assets yet, so everything is under your control. I’m asking what will happen once you’re both gone.
Excuse: I don’t want to talk about dying.
Response: Would you tell me how you started farming? How it has grown? Do you want me and the grandkids to continue your legacy?
Excuse: We don’t understand your urgency.
Response: We’re hoping to continue to farm, if that is your wish. If not, I need to know now so my son and I can prepare.
Without clarity, you are hoping things will work out. Hope is not a good business strategy, nor is it best for the future of the farm, your security, and personal health. You will need to have a Plan B if Plan A isn’t shared.