By Sophie Neems, Communications Specialist at Farm Credit
Succession planning is a delicate business; few people get excited to come to terms with mortality and create a plan for how land and personal assets will be passed from one generation to the next. However, succession planning is about more than just that. It is about the future of the family farm; it is about the future of a business into which countless hours of hard work were put; and it is the about the future of a place, a special place, that holds memories, as well as potential.
Brittany Bula, a potato farmer from Wisconsin, spoke with NFU about her belief in the vitality of creating a succession plan and creating it early. “No one wants to picture their parents not here… [but,] you’re going to have to prepare for that day.” She highlighted, “As your parents get older, more health risks are possible and before something happens, I feel that a succession plan should be in place so that everyone is well aware of what is going on… so it’s not a surprise.” She went on to describe how creating a plan early ensures that all siblings are aware of what will happen in the event of the parents’ death. Thus, clear communication and mutual understanding decreases the chance for sibling feuds over land inheritance.
When contemplating the future of their farm, Brittany’s father was torn. Two of his children, including Brittany and her brother Corey, were farming with him and wished to continue and two of his children preferred to pursue livelihoods off the farm. If he bequeathed equal ownership of the land to each of his four children, Corey and Brittany would have been forced to buy out their other two siblings’ shares in order to continue with the family business. This is not something that they could have afforded to do, leaving them little choice but to sell the farm. However, Brittany’s father also wanted to ensure that all his children felt equally loved and valued upon his passing, leaving fair inheritances to all.
Listening to her fathers’ concerns and understanding the depth of his uncertainty, Brittany feared that he would avoid making the final decision about the land until it was too late. This motivated her to not let the topic drop. Brittany shared with NFU that her primary role in the creation of the succession plan was to continue raising the topic to her parents, and raising it often: “You have to keep talking about it. You can’t let it go on the back burner.” In the end, Brittany’s father decided to leave the land to Brittany and Corey, and financial inheritance to his other two children.
When asked to share advice for other farmers Brittany said, “The first thing is proving yourself and then not giving up.” She emphasized the importance of demonstrating to family members that you are dedicated to the actual labor of farming and that you “aren’t going anywhere.” Most importantly, Brittany wished to share her self-assurance and her confidence with others to empower them to engage with their families on this complicated topic. Brittany said, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid of the reactions. It’s probably not going to be the reaction that you want the first time, but eventually they [parents] are going to realize that this is something that needs to be done and you bringing it up will show them that you are interested in and serious about [staying on the farm].”
Sophie Neems is a native Iowan and an agriculture enthusiast. She grew up going to summer camp on a small farm outside of Iowa City and graduated from Grinnell College with a BA in Anthropology and Spanish. She currently works at the Farm Credit Council and was previously an intern at National Farmers Union.
Editor’s Note: Guest posts do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of National Farmers Union.
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