Flag barn

A barn near Hartford, South Dakota, is decorated with the American flag.

Dear Michael: We had a will when our kids were young but don’t really know what to do since they are now grown and married. One of our children farms – part with us and part on his own land. We don’t know what he wants. Our other children just tell us to do what we want to do with the farm, although I don’t know if their spouses agree. Other than that, they haven’t said anything. I try to get my husband to get after this but he says he doesn’t know what to do. What do you suggest? – Hard to Talk To.

Dear Hard to Talk To: In the 1967 movie “Cool Hand Luke,” the captain – who was the warden – stated “What we have here is a failure to communicate” after he beat Paul Newman with a horse whip after he was insubordinate in the way he replied to an order from the captain.

One of the main reasons people set up appointments with me are all the reasons you listed above.

Your husband doesn’t want to do anything. He doesn’t have the answers on everything because he doesn’t even know all the questions. The average person doesn’t know enough about estate planning to know all the things they should be considering, what questions need to be asked and then answered after careful deliberation. But if he doesn’t know the steps that need to be taken he’ll never take the first one.

You know how us men are about asking for directions when we’re lost. We’d just as soon keep driving until we run out of gas then stop and ask someone.

As for your son, he’s in a difficult position. He appreciates the help he is getting from you and he doesn’t want to jeopardize his good standing in your eyes by appearing too greedy. If he feels like he’s pushing you to do something, he’s bound to feel guilty about doing that.

Your other kids hardly know where anything stands, if you have a lot of assets or little, a lot of debt or none, etc. It’s hard for them to give you any ‘advice’ on what you should do.

As such, Mom, it’s your job to get Dad to do one thing. Come and meet one time so I – or another professional like me – can explain what the steps are. First meetings usually consists of putting down what assets and debts you have, looking at your will from when the children were all young, and then asking you how you got started in farming.

Sometimes that last question is the one that gets things going for Dad. He likes to talk about walking to school uphill both ways – in the snow – when he was a kid. He likes to talk about the machinery his dad taught him to use and how it’s progressed since then. He’ll likely reminisce for the rest of the day if we let him.

In this same vein, once we get it opened up, we ask him where does he see his operation going and what’s most important to him and why?

Many times, you won’t have all the answers to all the questions right away – and I don’t have time to ask you all of the questions on the first meeting. Second meeting – just you, Dad and me again – we go through again and see what thoughts have occurred.

Eventually, after enough time talking and meeting, we’ll bring Junior in to see what he has to say about what you have to say about things. Some he’ll agree with – others he won’t, but we work it out and see where your future goals meet his future goals.

Last but not least, we meet with the rest of the family, lay things out and tell them to speak out now or forever hold their peace, and we take the plan to an attorney to get it drafted up.

Now you know all the steps.

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Michael Baron provides estate planning guidance at Great Plains Diversified Services in Bismarck, North Dakota. Email him at KeeptheFamilyFarm@gmail.com.


Michael Baron provides estate planning guidance at Great Plains Diversified Services in Bismarck, North Dakota.