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PLENTY TO CONSIDER: A farm succession plan has a lot of moving parts. Bringing advisers in and “getting out of the way” may make sense for your operation.

We don't know what we don't know

Does your ego get in the way when planning your estate?

As a young man of limited resources and wisdom — and a car with a front end that vibrated — I ventured to my local auto shop and asked them to replace my front struts. I was confident the struts were the problem, and I did not have the tools or knowledge to replace them myself. (For you younger readers, this was before Google and YouTube.) I also did not want them selling me some repair I did not need.

The shop replaced my struts, and as I drove home, the car still had the vibration. I returned to the shop to ask if something was lacking in the installation. The experienced mechanic kindly and thoughtfully informed me that the struts were installed as directed, but my car vibrated because my ball joints were shot. My struts were in good shape.

I drove away in my vibrating car because I did not have enough additional money to pay for the repair I actually needed. While driving the car for several additional weeks until I could earn and save the additional repair money, I realize that I had learned a valuable lesson: that my ego was larger than my wisdom!

I “knew” (or thought I knew) what I wanted and needed, and did not need anybody telling me otherwise. I just needed them to implement it. What I came to realize was that what we think we know, and the things we don’t know we don’t know, are where our problems start. If our ego lets us believe that we don’t need other knowledgeable individuals to help us, we are asking for a bad outcome.

Having an experienced adviser to help guide you to reach your objective can be invaluable. If you want to accomplish an objective, here are the questions you should ask:

• What are the risks, rewards, and costs, both financial and in time, for you (or others) to obtain your desired outcome?

• Who do you need to consult that has the knowledge, wisdom and experience to help you understand the risks, rewards and costs?

Making the right choice

In my line of work, people often express a desire to avoid probate court involvement for their family upon their death. This is a worthy objective. However, how you avoid that costly process can possibly end up costing your family more money than the expense of probate.

In the area of estate planning, people can also be singularly focused on saving taxation. They are so focused on that one issue that they don’t see the other costs related to their actions — usually resulting in unintended outcomes for their families.

A trusted legal, financial or tax adviser (or better yet, a team of all three) can bring the knowledge, wisdom, perspective and guidance you need to reach your objective in the most effective manner. The article or website that offers a quick-fix solution that your ego “knows” is the easy solution is rarely the best answer. Usually, it is describing just one aspect of the problem, or the answer.

And you can rest assured that whoever is promoting the quick-fix solution is ready, willing and able to happily sell you “a new set of struts.”

What I have learned — unfortunately, the hard way — is that it is best to set aside my ego and to seek appropriate help to accomplish what I hope to accomplish. Implementing this hard-earned wisdom has been for the better, for me and for my family.

Dolan, an attorney, helps farm and ranch families achieve comprehensive estate, succession and legacy planning objectives. He is the principal of Dolan & Associates P.C. in Brighton and Westminster, Colo. Learn more on his website,

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