Joey pulled into the driveway to park his truck. The yard was already full of vehicles from his three children. His oldest daughter, a sophomore in college, was back home and parked along the side of the garage. His two other high-school-age children had cars parked by the garage as well.

His wife’s SUV was in the garage already, and he carefully navigated through the informal parking lot, taking his place beside her car.

When Joey and his wife built their new house, they had a lively discussion about the size of the garage. They settled on a three-car garage, but one of the stalls was always filled with toys. Sometimes it had motorcycles, other times a trailer with snowmobiles, and occasionally the jet skis ended up parked there.

Before closing the garage door, Joey did a quick dollar estimate of all the vehicles. Everything was either brand new or under two years old. He guessed their value was just a little under $200,000 for their family of five.

Joey had always been a bit of a wheeler and dealer. He enjoyed having new vehicles for all his family. While he would never say it out loud, their family kind of set the standard of people who had “arrived” in their community.

Joey started out farming with his parents. They were very generous in giving him opportunities, and rented their land to Joey for cheap. His dad was always willing to co-sign a note for new equipment. Because of this, Joey had always bought the best.

Over the last 30 years, he had experienced the ups and downs of agriculture. The only difference between Joey and almost everyone else was that his father had absorbed all the bad years. Joey continued to spend and farm as he had always done, not realizing how much his father had protected him and his family.

This all worked out very well until last year, when both his parents died in a nine-month period. His mom went first, and her will left everything to her husband. Joey was not too concerned about this because he knew most of the land was owned by his father. Just a week after his father’s death, he was anxious to see what else his father had left him.

Like many wills, his father had prepared to leave everything to Joey’s mom if she was still alive. Since she died before him, now the will listed very specific steps the executor was required to follow.

Joey’s father stated he had helped Joey throughout the last 30 years. There was a chronological list of all the gifts and debts his father had paid to support Joey’s lifestyle over the years. It also explained how his father had attempted numerous times to tell Joey that his lifestyle exceeded the profitability of his farming operation.

He acknowledged that he should have been firmer, but since Joey was the only farming son, he felt inclined to continue to help rather than have a big blowup that might devastate their family.

Then came the surprise. The three non-farming children received all the farmland. The will required them to rent it to Joey for the next three years, but it did not require them to rent it at less than the going market rate. Besides the land, there were not many other assets. The few things that were left were also given to the non-farming children. The remaining paragraph reiterated that Joey had received his father’s inheritance while his father was still living.

It took Joey a few days to realize the full impact of what occurred. He had been renting land from his father for $150 an acre for many years. Now, the rent would jump to $335 an acre. This would change everything for him.

He consulted a lawyer to see if he could contest the will, but there appeared to be no ground to take legal action.

Over the next six months, Joey’s financial pressure ratcheted up. His new line of farm equipment had helped reduce his tax liability for the last few years, but he had not made any significant payments against the debt. He began to feel suffocated by them.

Joey’s wife worked off the farm making $50,000 a year. She enjoyed spending her money on nice things. She drove a Cadillac SUV, had closets full of clothes, and emphasized the importance of vacationing at expensive resorts at least twice a year.

Joey and his wife both insisted they have a mansion for a house. Even in a good year, the mortgage payments would take all of his wife’s after-tax income and then some.

Joey had always enjoyed a great relationship with his banker. However, this perceived relationship was based on his father’s deep pockets. With no inheritance on the way, Joey did not have a cash flow. He was not even close. He looked for other ways to save money.

His children were not helpful. None had ever had a job. The oldest daughter was majoring in European ballroom dance, and it was hard to find a career in that major. She was at an expensive private school and was accustomed to spending spring breaks partying. She wanted to travel during the summer to broaden her horizons. Joey’s two high school kids were cast from the same mold.

Joey’s wife complained bitterly that his siblings had stolen their inheritance, and his kids refused to live a less-expensive lifestyle.

The only person who seemed firmly grounded in reality was Joey’s banker. But everything the banker proposed was unacceptable to Joey. When they discussed making cuts in overhead, Joey arrogantly refused. He believed there was no need to change how he had done things in the past.

When Joey talked to his wife about struggling to make their house payments, she looked at him as if he came from another planet. Their arguments grew so intense at times that an outsider would think they were preparing for divorce. Their children watched them fight, but had been so sheltered from reality they could not understand what was happening.

And so things continued going downhill for Joey. During the span of the next three years he and his wife got divorced. Their new house, the acreage, and all the latest farm machinery were sold at an auction. All their new cars had new owners.

This story brings up several questions. Was Joey’s father firm enough with him? Who is responsible for Joey’s predicament? Why wasn’t Joey willing to change and save his farm?

To be continued next month.


Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at plans@bobdunaway.com.