One of the least favorite things to talk about, for most people, is death. What’s going to happen when we pass and who is going to get the material possessions left behind. It’s not an easy topic. With farms, it’s also not a matter of who gets the rocking chair, but how to handle potentially millions of dollars worth of land and equipment as well as living creatures that still need care, immediately.
Most of the time, when one passes of natural causes, they aren’t the ones caring for the animals on a day-to-day basis, even if they are still often involved financially. It’s not anyone’s favorite subject, but big or small operation, I think it’s important for everyone to know. And if for whatever reason you don’t want to tell anyone the details, at the very least, make sure it’s written out, clearly, and you tell someone where to find it once you’re gone.
My husband and I went through this situation recently, when his grandma passed away. Her and her husband (who died several years before) did extensive estate planning, but there is still certain things up in the air. The last thing you want as you are grieving, is to have to worry if you will be able to keep farming.
I’m in an interesting position where I’m the off-farm heir and the on-farm heir. I have two sisters. On my parents’ operation, we all grew up helping and still do what we can, but my middle sister is there full time — well, more than full time, but we all know how that is.
My parents have already explained what it going to whom and why. As the years pass and my sister becomes more involved in the operation, that is subject to change.
I’ve always been a firm believer that it’s yours, do whatever you want with it. They have raised three smart, independent girls, and we will figure it out. If they want to sell it all and go travel the world, I believe they should. That said, I don’t know many farmers who work and scrimp their whole lives just to want to sell it all. My parents want to see it passed on; they want to see us taking care of the land and making it better. But whatever they would have opted to do was absolutely their choice.
Blessedly, they have decided to pass it down, and they have dictated what and how and whom everything is going to. The sister who is working there can make her own choice now whether she wants to continue there, knowing what she knows, or do something else. All the information has been presented and everybody can make an informed choice, ask questions that we need clarity on and be secure in knowing what their wishes are.
On my husband’s side, he is the baby of four kids and the one who is working the farm. This farm is his dream. I’m living and working it with him. As with most, we don’t have a lot of financial capital to put in, but we put in a lot of sweat equity.
Referring to last paragraph, I absolutely believe that it is his parents’ right to decide what they do with what they have. However, as both of us are working and staking our entire lives on this, we want to know their intention and beyond that, have it in writing. If they do intend to sell it and travel the world, or give it to his other siblings, we believe we have the right to know that. If there is no future on this farm once they are gone, we have to do what’s best for us, or at the very least be prepared.
I have been in too many farm wives groups where individuals have worked their whole lives, vastly underpaid of what they could get elsewhere, only to find out the parents lied to them and are left with nothing.
My husband and I are in our 30s with no children. I want a plan for the day after he dies. I want to know now, while I can talk to him and he can talk to me, what happens. Not that I’m expecting anything to happen, but it can be game over at any time for any of us. I know for a fact, that if he dies, I’m going to be beside myself with grief. I’m not going to want to do anything for a long period of time, let alone try to figure out how I’m going to live.
I think one of the greatest gifts you can give your family is to make them not guess at your wishes. I believe that most of us left behind want to honor a late loved one’s wishes. If you truly don’t care what kind of casket you’re buried in or the songs sung at your funeral, be honest and say that. I realize that’s such a little thing, but in a moment of grief, those decisions seem so big.
You have spent years accumulating what you have. I know there are no luggage racks on hearses, but agriculturists don’t work their whole lives not caring about the land. Tell your people what you want. Write it out and have the hard conversation. They will thank you because no one gets out of this life alive.
Kelsey Pagel is a Kansas farmer. She grew up on a cow/calf and row crop operation and married into another. Kelsey and her Forever (Matt) farm and ranch with his family where they are living their dream and loving most of the moments.
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Author: Ryan Tipps