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What you say, what you mean and what someone hears may all be different

"With farm estate planning, not understanding what the other person says can be a multimillion dollar error or years of agony that no one will be laughing about."

A woman and a man look at papers and calculators in front of them.
In farm decision making and estate planning, making sure both parties understand not only what someone is saying but what they mean by it are important, says Myron Friesen.
Erin Ehnle Brown / Grand Vale Creative LLC
We are part of The Trust Project.

What did I hear you say? At our place we always seem to have projects going. My family all kind of rolls their eyes when they hear me say we have another project to do because I usually underestimate the time and energy that is involved to complete the project. What I think I say and what they hear are often two different things.

On a recent project several contractors were involved. I was on the phone with one of them and I asked him if they will be working on Saturdays. He had a little bit of an accent, but he responded, “We usually curse Saturdays.”

I was surprised he said that so I said, “Whoa, I’m surprised that you curse Saturdays.” He responded again, “Yeah we kind of like to curse Saturdays.” I continued, “Oh, I kind of like to work on Saturdays, because I’m usually working on some project outside.” So, I kind of kidded him that I was surprised he cursed Saturdays and praised on Sundays. Then he responded and tried to clarify “No, I mean we curse like coast.”

I started laughing at myself. “Oh you are saying cruise?”

"Yeah that’s what I’ve been saying,” he said.


“Oh,” I said. “So, you like to cruise or take it easy on Saturdays?” He said yes, now we were both laughing.

I thought, oh my goodness, how opposite is it that as I thought I was hearing he was “cursing” Saturdays and he was wanting to “cruise” on Saturdays and take it easy. A simple misunderstanding of one simple word.

Think about how that can happen with estate planning when a parent says to a child, “Our estate plan will take care of you.” What would you hear if someone said that to you? Does that mean their plan is completely done? Does that mean that every dollar is split evenly between each child? Does that mean that one person gets the farm land? Does that mean that there are rental or buyout options? What was said? And what was meant?

What would you hear if your parents said you will get a “break on the land”? Does that mean you will get more of it? Does that mean you will have option to rent the land or an option to buy some or all of the land? Does that mean a right of first refusal? Does that mean a discount of 10% or 30% or 50% or special use valuation will be applied? What do you think was said and what do you think was meant?

When Dad says, “You will get to farm the land when I retire,” what do you think? Does that mean his age 65 or 75 or 85 or the day he dies? Does that mean that he will make all the decisions until that day and stay living on the home farm until whatever day he chooses?

“Next time corn and beans go up I’m going to sell a bunch.” What does that mean? Does that mean when corn goes up a dime or a dollar or two dollars? Does a bunch mean 10,000 bushels or 100,000 bushels or 300,000 bushels.

“Next week we are going to take it easy.” Does that mean going on vacation? Does that mean only work 50 hours? Does that mean stopping at 5 p.m.?

The point is, when you don’t know what someone means, you need to clarify, just like I did with my contractor. With farm estate planning, not understanding what the other person says can be a multimillion dollar error or years of agony that no one will be laughing about.


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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