The answer to "Can I be honest?" seems obvious, but as we go through life, we find that sometimes being honest is not as easy as it sounds. I will give you some examples and you can decide if you agree with my honest thought.

  1. Someone emails me about their farm, and they have 120 acres of farmland. Currently no child farms with them but one wants to . The parents don’t rent any other land, but they say they want to keep the farm together so this one child can farm full time. I email back to ask if there’s any other livestock or income sources to their farm, and they tell me they have two cows and they have 40-year-old line of equipment worth $50,000 total. I can certainly appreciate the 120 acres that they have, but can I be honest? They have farmland. As is they don’t really have a sustainable farm that will support a family in the future. Everyone needs to keep their job and then understand that this could be a very nice inheritance or hobby, but not an income-producing farm for a family.
  2. We meet with the client at their attorney’s office. From the get-go, I recognize that farm estate planning is not this attorney’s specialty. In fact, throughout the appointment, I’m trying to figure out what exactly this attorney would be good at, but that is beside the point and all I know is this will be a miracle to find any documents created that would transition the farm to the next generation as we have clearly laid out. Sure enough, four months later, we get the “first draft” of the documents and they look like the attorney printed them off the internet. The client calls to see what I thought of the documents. I ask, “can I be honest?” He says, “Sure, that’s why I like working with you.” I said, “I would fire him and go to a different attorney.” He tells me, “Thanks for being honest. I was hoping you would say that because I didn’t think this was good either.”
  3. Someone calls in and wants to talk. One thing leads to another, and as the call is concluding they ask about price and are surprised because they thought I work for free. Interesting because I pay mechanics to repair of my equipment, plumbers to do plumber stuff, electricians to keep lights on, and I pay for every other service I have done. Now I’m supposed to solve your family problems and work on your multi-million dollar estate for free? Can I be honest? How long would I be in business if I worked for free?
  4. A family that includes siblings working together is putting together a plan for the future. That is great, but I can see there are some real serious people problems brewing, and now they want to expand and acquire more assets. Can I be honest? The train is on the track, but the rails ahead are in poor repair. Why would you keep adding more cars to the train before repairing the track?
  5. I’m working with a family that has an obvious need for cash at death. There is a need for buyouts and equalizations that they have identified. That can be accomplished with stockpiled savings, new loans at that time or life insurance. Savings are unlikely and loan interest rates are uncertain. Can I be honest? There needs to be life insurance in place to cover some of that known expense.

Being honest is not always easy, but it’s always worth it. Sometimes we get offended when people are honest with us. Next time someone is trying to be honest with you, maybe their delivery is not perfect but they’re just trying to help. Honestly.

Myron Friesen is the co-owner of Farm Financial Strategies Inc. in Osage, Iowa. He can be contacted at 866-524-3636 or friesen@farmestate.com.

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