Succession Planning and the Family Meeting

With Thanksgiving this week and relatives coming in from diverse locations, a topic of conversation for many farm and ranch families around the table may be the transfer of the farm or ranch to the next generation and how it should be accomplished. While we encourage families to have these discussions, it is important to consider the staging of these discussions. Does the timing and location of the “family meeting” allow for the free and uninterrupted discussion of these important issues? Does the fact that Dad, Mom and the children are all sitting in the same chairs they have sat in for the last 30 years affect how people are interacting? Are people viewed as being on equal footing or does the setting create an unintended hierarchy? Do we slip into family roles instead of business roles?I am nearing 50 years old. I have been practicing law for 21 years. I graduated near the top of my class from a highly regarded law school. I have been recognized professionally for my skills and abilities. I don’t say this to brag, but only to emphasize that I hope I am very good at what I do. BUT, when I sit down with my parents to discuss their legal affairs, who do they see? Hopefully, for the most part it is the fellow I just described. However, I know for a fact that it is, at least occasionally, the absent-minded 16 year old kid that backed out of the garage and smack into my Dad’s truck (30 years later I still hear that story often – among others).It is difficult for parents to see their adult children as adults and it is difficult for adult children to see themselves as equals to their parents. It is important when having these discussions to put yourselves in a position to succeed. Just like staging a home can be important to its sale, staging the family meeting can be the difference in whether or not positive outcomes are achieved. As you prepare to have your family meeting give some thought to the timing and location. Prepare to succeed.