"Because it involves talking about the deaths of family elders and who gets the farm after their passing, farm estate-planning isn't easy for farm families to do," says John Porter, retired University of New Hampshire Extension dairy specialist.
"Fear of the unknown, dislike of the subject, or just plain procrastination often shove this topic down the priority list. However, it's better to have those conversations with all the players around the table, rather than trying to second-guess what mom or dad would have wanted in the emotion-filled days after they die."
"After all," Porter says, "what's more important to a farmer than seeing a life's work — maybe generations of work — continue on?"
And what greater public benefit than keeping agricultural land open, since working farmland allows groundwater recharge, buffers against floods, filters pollutants, provides wildlife habitat, and delivers the scenic views.
Real families tackle the issues
To help break the ice on this subject and hear from families who have dealt with estate-planning issues, a team of Extension colleagues that included family resource management specialist Suzann Enzian Knight, program assistant Katherine Fredette Porter, and agricultural business management specialist Mike Sciabarrasi, has produced a series of six videocasts of farm families telling their farm-succession stories. The Family Farm Finances Web site Knight organized three years ago also contains a wealth of additional farm-family financial management information.
Opening hearts, serving up practical advice
The videos feature three New Hampshire farm families interviewed at their farms about the estate planning steps they have taken: Charlie and Ruth Bachelder and their son Keith of Epsom; Ralph and Sandy LeClair and their sons Mark and Matt and his wife Beth, of Mason; and Martin and Lynda Connolly and their sons Patrick, Michael and Chris of Temple were interviewed.
Porter asked each family a series of questions about how they dealt with estate planning. These became five segments, entitled How to start succession planning, How to prepare the generations, How to talk about succession planning, How to transition from discussion to documentation, and How to plan for life after farming.
"The families opened their hearts and gave a lot of honest, practical advice that could help another family get started in succession planning," says Porter.
Web site, videos jumpstart process
Knight adds, "We've also posted to the Web site many downloadable resource materials that go along with the videocasts. Site visitors will find retirement budget calculators, sample documents, planning templates, and many other documents that can facilitate planning."
"The family farm financial Web site isn't a substitute for getting legal advice for finalizing the estate plan," says Knight. "But it can help get things started or reactivate stalled plans to promote the family discussions needed before sitting down with an attorney.
"Viewers will find that a lot of their apprehensions are shared by the farm families interviewed. Their discussions of how they worked through things can be a real encouragement."
To explore the information go to http://extension.unh.edu/news/2010/09/transferring_the_farm.html? and scroll down to “a series of six vidiocases” and “The Family Farm Finances Web site.