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There are some things you can't unhear in a farm's story

Sometimes, Myron Friesen says, there are things in a farm's story that one can't unhear and that are vital to understanding a family's decision making process.

A farmstead sits next to a body of water. Behind it is a pink, yellow and orange sunset. Both the farm and the sunset are reflected in the calm waters.
Sometimes during the listening portion of farm estate planning, Myron Friesen will hear details of the farm or family that he can't "unhear." Those details often are reflected in a family's plans.
Jenny Ring / Grand Vale Creative LLC
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In life there are a lot of things that we hear that do not matter. Sometimes it is just plain noise. Other times we hear things that just keep echoing in our minds again and again over time and you just cannot “unhear” what you heard.

I think about what I do, as someone who has done farm estate planning for the last 22 years all over the Midwest. I am not an attorney. I am not a doctor. I am just a problem solver. However before being a problem solver, I have to be a listener. When I listened sometimes, I hear some normal everyday comments, but then in almost every case I hear the “one thing” that make each case unique.

As I scan client lists and files I remember certain people having a witty story. I recall hearing some stories about some terrible things that parents or children said to one another. I recall another client’s cheerful voice calling me “Lucky” every time he saw me. I think he called everyone “Lucky” so he did not have to remember anyone’s name!

I recall a story about a land acquisition for $50 per acre and a $4 Realtor commission per acre. I remember hearing a client tell me about his grandfather being stubborn, and as a result, he and a neighbor could not get together on a land price over a $7 dollar per acre difference back in the 1960s. I recall hearing stories about early snowstorms, hail, wind, and tornadoes. I remember hearing families telling me some hilarious stories about dating, weddings and family gatherings.

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I remember the pain in voices as families told me about some untimely and accidental deaths in their family. I remember hearing sadness, anger, and judgment in the voices of spouses, sometimes both sides, as they tell me about their own divorces or children’s divorces after one year and after 40 years.

My own son, who is now coming into the estate planning business with me, now often hears some of those stories as we review files. There are a lot of papers and documents in those files. Many of those stories that I have heard are somehow reflected in the design their plan.

Even now as I prepare this article, I almost still get emotional and feel shock as I recall asking a couple in Illinois about their children a few years back. I hear this mom start telling me about their children and she mentions the one child who had predeceased them. I simply recall saying, “I don’t need to know the details, but I’m just curious how they passed away,” thinking it would be a sickness or accident.

So, she begins to tell me how that child had struggled in a rough marriage, then a divorce, and after that the child had struggled to find value in their life. Then suddenly, she continues, and I am hearing more details as this mom tells me it how it came to a horrible ending as that child took their life. My mind was racing to comprehend what I was hearing and trying to sort out all of the emotions of imagining a person in that bad of a place to take their own life. Then I was imagining what it was like for parents, siblings and children that were a part of that.

I cannot “unhear” what I heard. Now some time has passed, and plans were adjusted to reflect this event in their lives.

Now that I think of it, nearly every plan has a few of those things that you can’t “unhear,” and they become a small part or even a large part of how you plan. An outsider may say, "I wonder why they did that?" But if you are listening sometimes things are said that you cannot “unhear.”

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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