Farm Succession Planning – A Process Worth 100 Acres or More…, Part 4

Laurie Wolinski, Extension Agent,; Dan Severson, New Castle Co. Ag Agent, and Maria Pippidis, Extension Educator Family & Consumer Sciences,

Writing about succession planning somehow happens a lot faster than the actual planning on the farm (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this series were published in previous weeks.) and just because we are writing about the next steps, you may not be ready to move to the next step. That’s OK, please hang in there. It takes time, and thought – and more thought, and discussions, and family meetings. We encourage you to begin early. Seriously, the time involved could be years. Once your succession plan is complete, it will need to be dusted off periodically to review and update if necessary. Life happens and circumstances change – some of the reasons for reviewing and updating.

Were you able to think about, write down or verbalize and share “what if” scenarios? It would not be uncommon to have some family members who align with each other’s wishes and some who have something radically different. This is part of the process. The “what if” scenarios can help you and your family develop a plan for building the skills of the successors or determining strategies to assist in supporting your farm’s legacy. It can also help you think through how you would handle unexpected circumstances like illness or disability. Lastly it can strengthen the resolve to create plans that support all the generations of the family.

It is not uncommon for some families to need a mediator in order to try and get everyone a little closer and on the same page. A mediator can help during those “what if” conversations. At some point the oldest generation is going to have to make some decisions often done with the assistance of an advisory team (accountant, lawyer, ag lender, insurance agents, financial planner, and/or Extension agent).

Preliminary decision making should reference the checklist used in the “what if” exercises to consider ownership transfer options and timing, retirement planning, farm management and division of labor. The next task is to write a plan – a rough draft of a plan – incorporating those preliminary decisions. We recommend, writing it, and re-visiting it periodically. Most of us have those middle of the night thoughts about what we should have/could have written…and a rough draft allows for plenty of flexibility and time.

By now, you should be getting the idea that this is a long process, and not “once and done”. If you plan to retire in 10 years, today is the perfect day to begin the process. Farmers are very busy and wear many hats – another reason why we urge you begin early. Ten years later will be here before we know it, we want you to have a succession plan in place.

If you haven’t yet attended a succession planning workshop, consider registering for the Farm Succession Webinar Series (Thursday evenings in August). Sessions are being recorded. More information about accessing the recordings will be forthcoming.

If you already have a rough draft of a succession plan – Way To Go! You are ready to move-on to designing, developing, writing and reviewing. It is completely fine if, in the midst of executing this step, you realize you need new/alternate options. If you begin early and often, time will more than likely be on your side. As with the previous steps, we have a checklist in The Farm Succession Planning Checklist. Pages 9 and 10 include an outline with check boxes. You may not check those boxes in order, but the list is a great reminder of what to include in your plan.

The final step is one that that should be done periodically. It should be done when life-events occur, but also, just a matter of routine. Mark your calendar to revisit your succession plan annually.