I was fortunate to speak this week at the 2019 Idaho Potato Conference and Ag Expo at Idaho State University. It is always a great opportunity to talk estate planning and succession planning with a group of farmers. As several people in attendance came to speak with me afterwards, I noticed a theme. It is a theme I have seen many times in my work as an estate planner and a farm transition coordinator. An unwillingness on the part of the departing generation to give firm answers to the questions of when will transition happen and how much they want to be paid. There are many reasons for this reticence to commit. It may be that they are worried the price will be too low and they won’t have enough in retirement. It may be that they fear the price will be too high and the son or daughter will not be able to succeed. It may be that they are not quite ready to back out of the business. It may be that they don’t know what to do next. Etc., etc., etc.
We have a proven process to take families successfully through the business transition/succession process. But, whatever the reason, there is no process that can overcome the inability or lack of willingness of a party to make decisions. President Theodore Roosevelt once said: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” Postponing decisions is, in fact, making a decision. You are choosing the results that are opposite of the decision you refused to make. Over time your choices, your options, will diminish. As you fail to choose an option, fail to make decisions, you are choosing a path that may not include that option in the future.
If you have had success in business, it is because you have been willing to make decisions. You have sometimes been required to make decisions in the face of many unknowns, but you still made decisions. Like Doctor Who once said: “Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose.” If you are committed to transition of the family business to the next generation, you need to commit to making commitments and then follow through with those commitments.