Her sobs revealed the obvious; her heart was breaking. She was dealing with the unimaginable. Her son died unexpectedly. No explanation. No advance warning. Because he had no spouse, no children, and no will, his widowed mother stood in line to inherit his large farm operation. She never anticipated this happening at her age. Her decision could have been easy--sell everything--but it wasn’t. Other farming children were involved.
We’ll never know with certainty her son’s reasons for not having the discussions with his family or creating an estate plan. We can only make assumptions. He may have thought he was young, healthy, and possibly invincible. He may have felt he had plenty of time to make his intentions known. Or perhaps he found the decisions were too difficult and needed more time to make the “right ones”.
Let his story compel us to take action. Let our story have a different ending. Estate planning for a farming family will not always be “a walk in the park”. Tough decisions require meaningful conversations with family and farm advisors. Realistically, some decisions may be met with opposition from family but the opportunity must be taken to iron out the crinkles. Valid reasons may stop the process but shouldn’t stop us from crossing the finish line. Here’s what we need to know.
Pushback from family about our decisions shouldn’t stand in the way of making our intentions known in writing. We may need to negotiate or compromise but ultimately, the final decisions will always be ours.
Our sincere wishes are to protect and care for our loved ones and make known our charitable bequests. When we don’t honor our wishes, we cheat ourselves of our desires; and will only invite heartache, hurt feelings, and bickering into our families. Satisfying everyone may be impossible. Perseverance and courage will help fight our fears of not pleasing everyone. But when we are honest, our loved ones will know the reasons for our decisions and never be left to wonder “why”.
Assets alone do not determine wealth. Assets, such as investments, inventory, land, machinery and equipment may be offset against mountains of outstanding debt. Without a Net Worth Statement we clearly don’t know whether we have any wealth to distribute. An encompassing estate plan looks at everything from insurance needs to tax planning strategies. Only when we do our homework will we see what we own and owe. Any potential dangers of eroding the value of our estate can be fixed with appropriate strategies to create the ideal plan.
Someone pointed out that anyone who doesn’t have an estate plan and a will is selfish. Their focus happens to be only on their needs without any consideration for their loved ones. The reasonable question is, “What would stop anyone from designing an estate plan so their family could remain united?”
Peace and harmony, although not always achievable, should be the main objective. When we build an empire, we have a say in how the empire is divided and shared among our beneficiaries. An estate plan is designed to survey the accumulated wealth and decide the appropriate way to divide it.
Although the task is daunting, we must fulfill our promises to ourselves and our loved ones. We keep our promises by revealing our intentions in writing. When we don’t follow through with our promises, we miss the reward.
Difficult tasks, like estate planning, are often shoved to the end of our to-do lists. William James, one of the founders of modern psychology said, “Procrastination is attitude’s natural assassin. There’s nothing so fatiguing as an uncompleted task.”
Every time we hear about someone’s unexpected injury, illness, or death, we think about our unfinished tasks. We feel a weight on our minds. Our Estate Plan which includes a Power of Attorney, Health Care Directive, and Will, all hang in limbo because we haven’t made the time to complete it. Once we commit and see this task to the end, our minds will be free of this burden.
William James also said, “It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.”
When our attitude is aligned with our motivation, we will achieve our goal. Our intentions must be driven by our love for our families. We will do everything in our power to have them avoid any hardships or discord…and for us, to have the comfort and satisfaction knowing our wishes will be carried out when we die. Simply knowing this makes all the effort we put into getting it done worth it.
If you haven’t completed your estate plan, what reason is holding you hostage? You are welcome to share your comment below.