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When Parents Won’t Discuss Plans

Can their problem be solved?

These parents avoid talking about continuation planning with their 35-year-old son who’s farmed with them since graduating from college. 


My wife and I met in college. After graduation, we got married and moved back to my parents’ farm. For the past 12 years, we have been all-in on the farming operation. My wife was not from a farm, but she has been very supportive and helpful to the operation.  We now have three children who love their grandparents and love being on the farm. We’ve bought a few farm assets along the way, but my parents usually end up buying the land or major machinery because they have more money than we do. My income is OK but not great. I do rent about 240 acres, and I use my dad’s machinery for that. 

For at least the last five years, my wife and I have been asking my parents to do some estate planning so we have some security and know what to expect in the future. Unfortunately, they shut down that conversation right away, and this is causing some tension with me and my wife. We are questioning how wise it is for us to continue without a plan. If this is going to end in disaster, we may as well move on now. Is there anything we can do? – M.K.


M.K., you and your wife are in a tough spot. I can feel your frustration. Being helpless is a bad feeling. First there is tension with your parents, then tension from your wife, and next, your children will hear about it as you and your wife discuss it. They will be confused by your frustration and their love of their grandparents and the farm.

Here are nine things for you to consider.

  1. Ask your parents out to eat. Going to a neutral place may relax everyone. Be up front that you want to talk about your family’s future.
  2. You and your wife should be organized with what you want to ask and how you will ask it. Too often, big questions are asked in casual conversation and not taken seriously or in a heated conversation and get dropped. Be calm and sincere while asking thoughtful and realistic questions. Hopefully, your parents recognize you are trying to honor them, not bully them. 
  3. Be realistic with your expectations. Giant steps can be frightening. Multiple small steps may be required. 
  4. Set time lines. Write down which time line your parents feel is realistic for implementing plans.
  5. Your conversation should be a combination of asking and telling. If all you do is tell them, they will likely shut down pretty quickly. 
  6. Determine who can help guide you through the process. A poor planner can quickly frustrate your parents who are already hesitant to plan. A competent planner can gain the trust of your parents to help them through the process.
  7. If your parents refuse to make plans, then you and your wife should have discussed options that you can live with. When shopping, I see young parents make ridiculous threats to their children without following through. Children get used to that, so their behavior never changes. Don’t tell your parents you’re going to leave the farm and then not follow through. Be prepared to follow through with what you say.
  8. Try to understand from your parents’ perspective. Farm distribution planning is tough. Someday you will understand that.
  9. Relax and respect your parents. Remember, when you were young, you knew when they were serious. Now everyone has grown up, and they need to know that you are serious.

—By Myron Friesen


Myron Friesen is co-owner of Farm Financial Strategies in Osage, Iowa. During the past 17 years, he has worked exclusively with farm families across the Midwest to develop farm transition strategies. Myron grew up on a Mountain Lake, Minnesota, farm. He owns and operates a 780-acre crop and livestock farm with his wife and four children.

Dr. Donald J. Jonovic is founder of Family Business Management Services in Cleveland, Ohio. He focuses on management, growth, and ownership transition issues.

Jolene Brown is a professional speaker, author, farmer, and family business consultant. Her tested business tools provide leadership and management solutions for the people who feed, clothe, and fuel the world.



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