Today we are wrapping up our fall workshops on Estate and Succession Planning for Farmers and Ranchers. As we meet with farm families in these and other meetings, taxes and probate are a common concern, however, there are others that seem to be expressed often:
- We have several children who want to work on the farm, but it just isn’t big enough.
- We are worried about family fights if one of our children is given the farm, while the others get much less or nothing at all.
- We have two children that want to take over, but they (or their spouses) just don’t get along.
- We have a child who is a good worker, but we don’t think he would be able to manage things.
- We need to plan for our future, but Mom and Dad just won’t let us know what they are doing.
This list can go on and on, but what these statements usually speak to is not just the problem expressed, but the underlying difficulty in communications. In my experience, most, if not all problems can be solved if there is open communication. One of the deterrents to open communication is a fear of offending. “We don’t want to cause hard-feelings” is a statement I often hear. My view is that a lack of open communication creates a much greater likelihood of hard feelings. We like to segregate our decisions into what is good for the business versus what is good for the family. In reality, I firmly believe that in most cases, making bad business decisions because you are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings actually increases the likelihood of resulting ill will in the family.
So what are some things you can do to create better communication in your farm family business?:
- Foster an environment where open communication is encouraged.
- Have regular meetings to discuss the ongoing planning process.
- Involve all of the participants in establishing the agenda for those meetings.
- Have the meetings at a time and location that will best to foster open communication.
- Involve a third-party mediator if you are having trouble.
- Understand and remember that it is impossible to please everyone all of the time.
In one of my favorite movies, Cool Hand Luke, the famous line is uttered, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” Don’t let a failure to communicate endanger your family relationships or your opportunity for success in farm succession planning.