It’s no secret that country communities are often very close and that friendships lasting a lifetime are formed. Neighbours tend to have similar aspirations when it comes to the farming business and they endure the same hardships. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that neighbours will take the same approach to the business itself and some fare better than others. Some are also better at dealing with the vexed questions of how to pass the farm on when the time comes and how to be fair to the various family members along the way.
I grew up in the country and understand firsthand what issues tend to arise. This story is the tale of neighbours in many farming communities and probably won’t surprise you.
There were these two farming families….
The farmers, John and Peter, were both successful and well-regarded in the community. Both were married with families and their two eldest sons Bill and Fred, were best friends of the same age. Both sons loved farming and it seemed natural enough, almost a foregone conclusion, that they would carry on their fathers’ work. But as it turned out, their paths in life diverged dramatically.
Upon leaving school, both Bill and Fred went back to the farm to work with their dads.
Fred’s father, John, was not proactive in planning to hand over the reins and after several years, Fred became disheartened. Despite his great love of the land, Fred, in his early thirties, moved off the farm to the city to make his own way. He started a new career, married and had a family of his own.
But farming was in Fred’s blood and after a dozen or so frustrating years in the city, he returned to the farm. John in the meantime had mellowed somewhat over the years, but still baulked at putting a succession plan for Fred and his siblings in place. Fred, now in his late forties, still had no ownership entitlements and his sister and brother felt that Fred was the favoured child. The signs of destructive family disunity were there for all to see. Who knows what will happen when John passes away?
Bill’s father, Peter, took a different approach from the outset. He handed over of certain assets reasonably early to Bill, to provide Bill and his young family with some security and to allow Bill to benefit from the growth in the farming operations he was contributing to. Bill’s sisters were “set up” with off-farm assets in order to provide for them; and the family as a whole thrived even when the farm struggled at times.
Not an uncommon tale within farming communities. Obviously every situation is unique in terms of quality of farmland, the vagaries of the seasons, family dynamics and capabilities and these all impact any succession plan. But eventually we all leave this earth and it is therefore extremely important for our loved ones and their unity, (both before and after we die) that a financial “mess” is not created by our death.
There are many reasons why someone like John acted the way he did - suspicion about the “young bloke’s” capabilities or perhaps the state of his marriage? And Fred may not always have been the most tactful when trying to get John to agree to some change. Be that as it may, these fears often feed upon themselves causing greater problems. Our role is to assist you in crafting sensible succession strategies ensuring security for each generation. Perhaps we should call it a life plan!