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What happens on the farm doesn't stay there during estate planning

Families often want what happens in "Vegas" or on the farm to stay there. But during the estate planning process, secrets and problems can disrupt the proceedings

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Myron Friesen

We’ve all seen the commercials for the excitement that happens in Las Vegas. The sale is a “good time” in the form of gambling, sex and partying. Many of those things would be frowned upon by some, but Las Vegas has embraced the opportunity to capitalize on inviting people to come do something "exciting" in their city and then return back to their "normal" lives at home and no one will ever know. Of course, it is very easy for most of us to throw down the judgment card. It’s kind of the “your sin is worse than my sin” mentality.

Is this a farm estate column? Well it seems as though I have had multiple meetings with families where a family member acts one way in public and another way in the house. Maybe a child acts one way at the basketball game and another way to their siblings. Maybe the family has a serious blow out on the farm and then a few minutes later they go to church and get out behaving nicely. This makes for some very interesting planning dynamics.

I starting hearing about their farming operation, and I can easily get my mind wrapped around their estate issues and potential solutions, and then they start to tell me about these “other little issues.” During conversations with spouses and children on and off the farm I start to discover that although this family did not go to Vegas, there are certain things they would rather not have anyone else know.

During a visit the father starts telling me "his side" of the story, and I get concerned that the farming heir has some real problems. Only a week later, I’m meeting with the farming heir, and when he is away from his parents, he starts telling me "his side" and how his dad has a history of mistreating people that are closest to him. and I start to think, "Hmm, maybe that farming heir is a pretty good person."

A few days later, I’m meeting another family of three brothers who farm together, and it seems like a good farm setup with land and cattle. But I can observe some hesitation to move forward, so I am thinking something else going on. I purposely start to have individual meetings and observe there are things that each individual did not want me to know, but a brother told me. Sometimes they are petty little things and other times there are bigger issues that will be a barrier to a farm transition.

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Oops! It seems like what happened in “Vegas” did not stay in “Vegas.”

Call me old school and traditional, but I still believe that right is right and wrong is wrong. Wrong in Vegas is also wrong in the Midwest. Some farm families have gone years and even generations with bad behavior on the farm, and they just keep sweeping it under the rug hoping nobody will see, even creating fear among spouses and other family members that some may classify as bullying.

For some families, financial aspects of planning are the main barrier, but for other families, some of the things that have happened on the farm and "stay on the farm" are going to be the very things that keep the farm from getting to the next generation.

Seldom do I run across a farm that I can’t figure out a farm continuation solution to, even though some are more challenging than others. However, the farm families that become nearly impossible to plan for are the ones that want part of the story "left in Vegas."

Is there any advice for that? The truth will set you free.

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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