LOVE IS IN THE AIR
Problem: How do farmers separate love for their families from goals for their farm?
It seems hard for my wife and I to agree on how to handle things when we talk about estate distribution. We both love our children, but she gets soft and mushy when she wants everything to be perfect and equal. I look at the farm as a business that has certain goals, and our children have many differences as well. Our children range from one farming with us full time to others not even knowing where we own land. My wife thinks our distribution plan is a reflection of our love for our children, and I fear some of our children will feel the same way she does. I love all of our children more than you can imagine, but to me that does not mean every asset has to be split equally. Can you help? - Phone call from S.K.
People tend to hear many messages like “you deserve” or “you are entitled to” or “if they loved you, they would….”
Dealing with those messages and feelings can be a challenge, but the first step is for you and your wife to be clear with each other about family and farm goals. You and your wife need to listen to each other’s concerns and write them down. You may need the help of a qualified farm estate adviser to identify potential solutions.
I once heard someone say, “People will not remember what you did for them, but they will remember how you made them feel.” Sometimes people try really hard to make every bucket equal for their children, only to find out some children aren’t happy anyhow. I have seen estates distributed that seem very lopsided, and yet the family members were all incredibly satisfied and not resentful at all. I’ve also observed plans that looked fair, yet everyone was upset.
Math and planning can be done to keep the farm business strong, but you also need to make all children feel good about what you did. How can you make your children feel good? You can start by actually telling them you love them and doing things that reinforce that. Train them that your love is not always reinforced with money. I see some children start to believe that love and money are always hand in hand. At your death, they may view less money as less love and whoever gets the most, must have been loved the most. Communication is big. Some advisers suggest everyone gets to see your will ahead of time. That may sound good, but sometimes things change. What then? Some beneficiaries find out they’re now getting less, so they may perceive they are now loved less.
Sometimes explaining the general concept of your distribution plan will suffice without all the details, leaving you margin for future changes if needed.
So, let’s get back to the differences between you and your wife. There needs to be a balance between your math and her feelings. Do be careful how any differences are portrayed to your children. It would not be good if you told some of your children, “If it were up to me, I would do it this way,” while your wife is saying the same thing to other children. Needless to say, that will only stir up more problems. Hopefully, your children will sense unity between the two of you.
Years from now it is hoped that their memory won’t be just what you did for them, but also how you made them feel. That would be a win for you and your wife.
Myron Friesen is co-owner of Farm Financial Strategies in Osage, Iowa. During the past 19 years, he has worked exclusively with farm families across the Midwest to develop farm transition strategies. Friesen grew up on a Mountain Lake, Minnesota, farm. He owns and operates a 950-acre crop and livestock farm with his wife and four children. farmestate.com