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TODAY’S THE DAY: If you want to preserve and protect the farm and the family, put the process of developing or reviewing an estate plan in motion today.

Best time to work on estate planning is today

Putting off this process until tomorrow can have unintended consequences for those you love most.

Keeping the farm running day to day is a huge challenge. Sometimes it’s easy to put off planning beyond today. Facing up to one’s own mortality can be a tough reality.

Yet it’s part of life. If you already have a solid, up-to-date estate plan, you’re a step ahead. If you don’t, developing a plan could be the most important thing you do this year to protect the future of your farm operation and your family.

Estate plans encompass many issues. Those include how you pass along assets and how you can protect your farm operation if you or your spouse need long-term health care.

This topic is so important that we’re devoting a series of stories to it. We’ll pass along information from attorneys with a genuine passion for helping people avoid situations that can cost them money, peace of mind and healthy family relationships.

Many of you already have an attorney and an accountant. If you don’t, find people you’re comfortable with to assist you. Begin the process sooner rather than later. Even if you set up an estate plan years ago, it’s important to review your plan, because laws have changed.

Ugly alternative

Why do we believe it’s important to begin now? Because we’ve observed what happens when someone puts it off until it’s too late. We’ve seen it happen in too many families.

Suppose you and your spouse own land, rent a lot more, and have one son who farms and other children who don’t actively assist you. You and your spouse know how you want things to proceed after you’re no longer here, but you haven’t spelled it out on paper.

You want your son and his wife to continue farming, so he may need a break. Surely your other children will understand.

Will they? Have you asked them? Have you called a family meeting and expressed your wishes? Have you asked everyone to sit around the family table after Easter dinner or after Christmas presents are unwrapped, and had the conversation?

For some people, it’s just too intimidating. What if someone feels they’re not being treated properly? What if it causes hurt feelings? The easy way out is to pass up the opportunity. Maybe you’ll be ready to talk the next time the family gets together.

I’ve seen cases where “next time” never comes. And I’ve seen what happens when there’s no concrete, written plan. Talk about hurt feelings and split families! Today, you may think that your children will work it out and always get along — that they will gather for holidays after you’re gone.

I can cite cases where that doesn’t happen. Instead, brothers don’t speak to brothers, and sisters don’t talk to sisters. Big family gatherings are a thing of the past.

You have today. Tomorrow is a gift the Lord has yet to give you. If you’re not comfortable with what the future might look like on your farm and in your family, maybe estate planning is something to put on today’s to-do list.

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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