What if tomorrow never comes?
No one knows what tomorrow will bring but what if tomorrow never comes? It is a million dollar question and then some. Farm transition and estate planning may not always be fun to talk about but it is essential to the future of your family and farm in the event of your death. Do you have a Will and Health Care Directive? Are they up-to-date? Do the personal representative and beneficiaries know what to do when that time comes?
Agriculture is the most dangerous industry in the United States. Depending upon which source you refer, agriculture workers (including owner/operators, family and hired workers) are five to eight times more likely to suffer a fatal injury than all other industries combined. Everyone knows someone who has been in a farm accident or has been in one themselves. As owners of livestock, machinery, commodities, and property, farmers have huge financial responsibilities and need to be prepared.
Every adult needs to have a Will and Health Care Directive regardless of their assets, marital status or family status. A Will is a legal document which lists instructions regarding the distribution and management of your assets and is usually the first step in the estate planning process. You can draft your own Will but an attorney will be able to help make sure you cover all estate law provisions. In addition, a husband and wife should each have their own separate Wills as they can be individually tailored. Some items you should have in your Will may include: naming a guardian for your minor children and naming a personal representative to carry out your wishes and procedures for distributing personal property. If there are family heirlooms at stake, you may want to distribute them now while you are living or name the inheritor in your Will. For example, Sarah gets great grandma’s silver tea set and Dave is to receive grandpa’s Minneapolis Moline tractor. Your Will needs to be signed and notarized and kept in a safe place such as a safe or safe deposit box. It may be a good idea to give a copy of your Will to each of your adult children and/or your personal representative. It is also good to review your Will once in awhile as it may need to be updated due to births, deaths, marital or property changes, etc.
We probably all can think of an individual who passed away and did not have a Will or their wishes written down. Then the family had to deal with the consequences or in some cases get in huge fights over family heirlooms, money, or property. Do not let this happen to you or one of your family members. There is no reason a family needs to be broken up over an heirloom glass bowl or financial assets. People can be extremely greedy when it comes to money on the table and family relations can be devastated by it. Be proactive, specific in certain cases, and get your Will done.
A Health Care Directive tells others, in writing, your health care wishes if you can’t tell them because of illness or injury. Some items included in a Health Care Directive: a person you trust to act as your agent, your goals, values and preferences about health care, where and what kind of care you wish to receive, instructions about artificial nutrition and hydration, organ donation, and funeral arrangements. What do you want done with your body upon your death: organ donation? Buried or cremated? Where do you want to be buried or have your ashes spread? Who do you want to be your casket bearers? Do you have money set aside to cover funeral expenses? Funerals are not cheap. Funeral expenses may include: cremation, embalming, funeral home fees, gravestone marker, casket, urn, flowers, transportation, funeral/graveside service, obituaries, and death certificates. It is extremely important to have a plan as to how those expenses will be paid. These are all important questions to ask yourself and get input from your family members.
When you have the Health Care Directive form completed, it needs to either be notarized or be signed by two witnesses to be a legal document. Inform others of your Health Care Directive and give appropriate people copies of it. It should also be kept in a safe place where it can be easily found when that time comes.
If you don’t have your Will and/or Health Care Directive done, do it now. If you have them completed, please review them and make updates if necessary. No one knows if tomorrow will come. “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift; that’s why it is called the present.
For more information about farm transition and estate planning, please visit the University of Minnesota Ag Business Management Team’s website.