A Publication of WTVP

Take the time to plan for your future.

Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a farmer? A weathered old man, working his fingers to the bone from sun up to sundown? A family full of kids who milk the cows in the wee hours of the morning before heading off to school, while the matriarch spends the day making pies (which she, of course, leaves to cool on the windowsill)? A worn-out tractor driven by a fella who’d give you the shirt off his back and whose word is bond? The idea of the farmer is deeply ingrained in our culture. Ram trucks even aired a lengthy Super Bowl commercial this year featuring broadcaster Paul Harvey’s 1978 address, “So God Made a Farmer,” extolling the many virtues of the American farmer.

As for me, when I think of a farmer, the first thing that comes to my mind is “estate planning.” Is that weird? Probably, but there’s good reason for that. You see, as a transplant to the Midwest, I was not exposed to the agricultural heritage of this area until later in life. Like many folks, I had a somewhat romanticized view of the American farmer plowing away at his little patch of ground to produce food to feed his family… and a little more to sell to make ends meet.

Planning for the Future
But you know what I learned when I moved to Illinois? Farming is big business. HUGE business. That family farmer you know almost certainly has several hundred thousand dollars of heavy equipment in his barn. And that plot of land he works? Around here, it might be worth as much as $15,000 an acre. The point is clear: farming is not an amateur’s hobby. It’s a major industry, and the fine men and women who call themselves farmers are exceptionally skilled at working the land.

But like many of us, our farmer friends sometimes overlook one of the most essential ways to protect their families’ futures: estate planning. Now, I’m not harping on farmers here; we all neglect this very important issue for a whole host of reasons, but most of us don’t own land worth seven figures or heavy machinery worth more than our homes. Farmers are in a unique situation because, while their incomes may not be significantly higher than those of other professions, their assets are often enormous. And this can lead to significant challenges when it comes to planning for their heirs.

No one wants to see his or her family quarreling over what’s left behind when a person passes on. Likewise, no one wants to see the taxman swoop in and take a giant chunk of the nest egg he’s worked so hard to build. This is true for all of us, yet we often fail to make time for the simple act of planning for the future by implementing a robust estate plan.

Peace of Mind
What is an estate plan? Well, it might look different depending on your life circumstances. The core document in any estate plan will almost always be a will. In addition, having powers of attorney in place is a good idea so everyone is clear as to who will be calling the shots with your finances and healthcare if you are unable to do so. From there, things can get complicated. If you have young children or significant assets, you will definitely want to explore trusts and the many benefits they provide, both in terms of tax savings as well as the orderly distribution of your assets according to your wishes. In the case of our farmer friends, they may even want to go so far as putting the farm within some sort of corporate structure.

The point is that every situation is unique and requires a true collaboration between the estate planner and the client (i.e. LegalZoom is not going to help you in these situations). I have frequently seen the costs of implementing an estate plan dwarfed by the savings achieved, but even without monetary savings, the peace of mind in knowing that your family doesn’t have to deal with a chaotic scenario after your passing makes it worth every penny.

Maybe that’s why I think of estate planning whenever I think of farmers. As Americans, we honor our proud agricultural traditions, and shouldn’t we also want our farmers and their families to be well taken care of? I think we should. It serves as a reminder to us all to make time to plan for the future so our loved ones aren’t stuck not knowing what to do when something unexpected arises. iBi