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Ignorance might be bliss, but that doesn't make it the right choice for farm families

Not all farm families know what's going on in the business. Ignorance often no longer is bliss at the time of a death, Myron Friesen says.

A man and a woman, each holding children, stand in a field next to a yellow tractor.
Farm couples that make decisions together or at least talk about decisions generally have fewer surprises to deal with at the time of a death, Myron Friesen says.
Erin Ehnle Brown / Grand Vale Creative LLC
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The saying is, “Ignorance is bliss.” What that means is that if you don’t know about something, you don’t have to worry about it. I think some people choose to remain ignorant in some areas because that is just one less thing to worry about. That may sound bad but sometimes I understand that. Think about the areas in agriculture that can be somewhat stressful such as grain marketing, machinery and land purchases, investments, life insurance or legal documents. So many different things that are major decisions on a farm.

I will simplify into three categories of farm couples. The first is husbands and wives who make all those decisions together. The second category is when they are both generally aware and may have some discussions about decisions but one makes the final decision. The third category simply says ‘that’s not my department’ and leaves it completely unknown to the other spouse. What category are you in?

For some couples I work with, I can immediately tell they do everything together and make every single decision together, and they live life in every way together. They both seem to know all facets of the farm and their family. The next category of couples, each do their own thing, but I can kind of just tell there is a general understanding and discussions have taken place about most things, even though they don’t work side-by-side every day. The final category of couples are married on paper, but sometimes it is hard to tell, because the decision-making is not discussed or understood by the other. That last example is never more clearly understood than at a death.

Here are a couple of situations. One was a lady who was widowed, and several months after her husband’s death, she and her children started to discover a whole bunch of credit card debt notices, and she had no idea that existed. No one seemed to know exactly what had occurred, but it was concluded the husband had accrued several hundred thousand dollars of credit card debt just shuffling debt among companies to get 0% interest. As soon as they were about to charge interest, he would close the account and move it to another company. It was an “interest game” to him that he told no one about. Only after getting charged over 15% interest at several companies did the family figure out what had happened. Was ignorance bliss?

Another lady came in having no idea they had several million dollars of debt and the farm was scraping by and trending the wrong direction. She was retirement age, wondering if there was going to be any income left at all. She thought they had a fair amount saved and he had some insurance, but the savings were apparently withdrawn for the farm and the insurance was dropped. Was ignorance bliss?

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Another situation: A surviving wife discovered about nine years earlier that her husband had taken out a $1 million term life insurance policy on himself, but had zero other estate planning done. Her view was that she was so thankful her husband had taken care of her. Was ignorance bliss?

Ignorance may have a little bit of a negative connotation, so maybe “not knowing” would be a better substitute. So, what’s it like between you and your spouse? Do you and your spouse decide everything together? Do you talk about it together and then decide independently? Do you have no clue what the other is doing and just assume it is all OK? How much or what do you both want to know?

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.

Related Topics: MYRON FRIESENFARM FINANCES
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