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Avoid empty chairs at holiday dinner tableAvoid empty chairs at holiday dinner table

Hoosier Perspectives: Plan your farm transition now to avoid splitting the family.

Tom J. Bechman

November 2, 2023

2 Min Read
A happy family gathered around the table, having Christmas dinner
HAPPY OR SAD? What will your family dinner table look like around the holidays this year? In five years? In 10 years? Whether or not you take farm transition planning seriously may be the deciding factor. vladans/Getty Images

“Mom, why aren’t Uncle Bill and his family coming to Christmas dinner?”

“Casey, it’s complicated.”

“Mom, I’m 16. I can understand things. Tell me.”

“Well, maybe after the holidays.”

“Mom, I haven’t seen my cousins in months. I thought sure I would get to see them at Christmas.”

“Honey, I am so sorry. There has been a misunderstanding.”

“A misunderstanding? Can’t you just call Uncle Bill and work this out?”

“Well, it’s not quite that easy. Grandpa and Grandma left things so your dad and I could continue farming, but Uncle Bill feels left out.”

“Left out? Didn’t he know how things were?”

“Well, no, not really. Grandma and Grandpa were old-fashioned. They didn’t like to talk about dying. Your grandma always said, ‘Things will work out.’”

“Things will work out? They’re obviously not working now. What will Christmas be like with four empty chairs around the table?”

Too common

If you’ve experienced a similar scenario, no matter which side you were on, your eyes may be damp. If you don’t know why I spent half the story introducing it, consider yourself lucky.

It’s about very real consequences when key people in a family farming operation fail to make transition plans to the next generation a priority. Verbal promises are just good intentions with no legal standing. “Things will work out” is just wishful thinking.

In too many farm family homes this holiday season, there won’t be as many chairs needed around the table for Christmas dinner. I know. It’s not pleasant. And once it happens, it can take years to resolve. Unfortunately, it may only end with one or more funerals. Even that doesn’t relieve the hurt felt by those left behind.

The irony? The most common reason given for not putting plans on paper is this: “We don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.” Instead, feelings aren’t just hurt, family ties are too often severed — permanently.

Good news

Nobody wants a story to end on a sour note, especially near holidays. The opening scenario could have been completely different if Grandma and Grandpa completed a succession planning process in a timely manner. That means contacting and working with a lender, accountant and/or personal attorney.

If the process seems overwhelming, there are a couple of other options. Purdue Extension has a team of county educators focusing on this topic. A workshop, “Passing It On: Farm Transition to the Next Generation,” is slated for Dec. 9 at the Cornerstone Hall in Salem, Ind. Learn about the nominal registration cost and make reservations by calling 812-883-4601. It’s open for farm families anywhere in Indiana.

Also, Nationwide and Farm Credit cooperated to develop “Land as Your Legacy.” The goal is to provide guidance from qualified attorneys and planners as you put together the information you need for a transition plan. Once it’s assembled, you take it to your own attorney to put it into action. It’s a no-cost program. Learn more from John Kay, FSG Financial Strategies Group LLP, Williamsport, Ind., at [email protected], or call 765-374-3485.

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman is editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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