The rain this past week gave me a chance to take a break from harvest and catch up in the office.
On my desk, there was a note from a farmer’s daughter who had found an old column that featured a letter written in 2004 by a farmer with terminal cancer.
Hoping that past experiences might be valuable to other farm families, I decided to print both letters for you to read:
Sept. 15, 2017
Dear Mr. Bohr,
Last month my father passed away. You and my father had met a couple of times when you provided farm estate advice to him and my mother.
My father thought very highly of you and the advice you provided.
He was open with all four of his children on how the farm that had passed from his father to him would eventually pass on to my brother.
Years ago, he had even given all four of us binders with copies of his will and trust as well as showing me where he kept a similar binder in his office.
A couple of days before his funeral, as I sat in his office I pulled out the binder he had shown me. In it I found the papers I knew he’d placed there — his will and trust — and surprisingly I also found an article written by you.
He had cut it out of Missouri Farmer Today (March 26, 2011). Neither I nor my mother, brother or sisters had ever seen the article, but as I read it, I knew why he had kept it in a place where it would be easily found.
My father was not a big talker, but when he did speak you knew you should listen.
While the words in your article were those of another farmer, I am sure they reflected how my father felt and what he wanted to tell us all.
I’d like to thank you for writing the original article. It has made this last month of decision making much easier.
That letter he left to his family, and they later gave permission for you to publish, was moving, loving, honest and personal.
I would like them to know how very thankful my mother, brother, two sisters and I are that they allowed such a private message to be shared with so many.
I have enclosed a thank you letter to them and hope you are able to pass it on to them.
Here is the letter published in 2011 the woman alluded to:
Dec. 20, 2004
I want you all to know how much I love you. Although my feelings are crystal clear, writing my thoughts on paper is difficult for me so I am relying on mom for help. As you know, communication never was my strong suit.
We offered you all the opportunity to divide the land if you would continue the operation, maintain the buildings, invest in the future growth of the business, become stewards of the land and commit to passing it to the next generation.
Only your brother accepted our offer to take on the responsibility for keeping the land in the family.
You each have pursued your own calling to teach school, raise your kids, practice law and run your own business. You have each found your own path.
I am proud of each one of you.
Your brother had little if any chance at a career choice. It wasn’t his option to haul my manure, calve my cows or plant and harvest my grain.
Twice he kept our business from being sold.
The first time he got a second job to pay his bills so mom and I didn’t have to pay him when the bank wanted to call in our notes in the ’80s. The second time was when I was laid up in the hospital after surgery kept me off the farm for an entire crop year in 1993.
He has spent the past 20 years as my hired hand with no overtime pay, year-end bonus or pension plan. He has earned the opportunity to own this farmland and the equipment to farm it.
The purpose of this letter is not so much to referee one last “disagreement.” I’m writing this letter to make absolutely sure you know what mom and I were thinking when we made our estate plan 4 years ago and to re-confirm those plans are still appropriate today.
By now, you kids have probably already read my will. We decided to use special use value as an income approach to pricing the land to your brother. I am very aware that this formula will be a significant discount from the appraised value.
If you have ill feelings about out our estate division, do not hold it against your mother. She deserves your respect and love at all cost.
Do not hold it against your brother — he was born to take over the farm operation and that is what he will be allowed to do at a price that will cash flow.
Trust that mom and I have carefully thought this plan through.
As a steward of the land, I wanted to not only to work the land, but to leave it better than we found it. Never once did we consider selling the land to the highest bidder.
My grandfather gifted his land to dad. Mom and I bought most of our land from dad on a low-interest discounted contract.
Thankfully, dad helped us out or we wouldn’t have made it. From braces to college tuition and weddings, mom and I sacrificed when we had little to sacrifice.
The farm allowed us to make these things happen. It is now our turn to transition our way of life to your brother and give him an opportunity to do the same.
Please respect our goals and the plan that we have carefully crafted to accomplish these goals.
This distribution is not equal, but neither has been the effort put forth that created the estate to distribute. If nothing else, mom and I wanted to be the ones who decided what was fair.
My days are numbered on this earth and that’s OK. I want you to know that I’m prepared for the next step in my journey. My faith is strong, I’m at peace with my future and I’m confident that my estate plan is in order.
God bless you and your families.
I love you all, Dad
It’s an unfortunate reality that our farming community will continue to lose devoted land stewards who are hardworking, honest and tremendously interested in leaving things better than they found them.
My friend who wrote the original letter to his children, would be extremely proud today that his oldest grandson has had the opportunity to follow in his footsteps and is currently harvesting his sixth crop.
My hope is that we all will have ample opportunity to reflect on what lies ahead of us with the serenity to accept what we cannot change, the courage to change what we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
For 25 years, Steve Bohr has been a partner in the farm continuation firm of Farm Financial Strategies, Inc. For additional information on farm continuation issues or if you have a question please contact Steve via email at Bohr@FarmEstate.com or by phone at 1-800-375-4180.