If you are a farmer or a rancher, you are hardworking and dedicated. Your farm or your ranch is more than just a way to make a living — it is your legacy. You have spent your life building something that you can be proud of and that you want to pass down to your children so that they can preserve what you have built and they can continue to provide for themselves and their families. Unfortunately, if you do not make an estate plan, your land and your assets may be liquidated cutting your legacy short and ending your family’s unique lifestyle choice.
Estate planning is important for everyone but especially for those who own their own business such as farmers and ranchers. If you avoid making or updating an estate plan, your assets will be subject to state intestate laws. Instead of you deciding how your estate will be settled upon your death, the courts will make that decision for you. Below are three common estate planning mistakes farmers and ranchers make and how to avoid them.
Estate planning is usually low on a person’s list of priorities until a life event occurs that forces the person to contemplate their own death. The most common life events that cause someone to begin to think about estate planning is getting married, having children, amassing a large asset or amount of money, or the death of a parent, relative, or close friend.
One question about estate planning that our attorneys are asked quite often is, “Why do I need a Will if I do not have children?” Our answer, “Because everyone needs a Will and a comprehensive estate plan regardless of whether they have children, are single or married, or have a little or a lot.” Failing to have a Will results in the state of Wisconsin deciding what happens to your property upon your death. Furthermore, failing to prepare for your incapacity prior to death may result in your healthcare wishes not being honored if you cannot speak for yourself.
It has been a bit over a year since the tragic death of actor and comedian Robin Williams; however, the family has yet to settle their battle over his estate. Williams took his life in August of 2014 in his California home. The actor had a Will but his kids from a previous marriage and his current wife have been battling for a year over some of the terms contained in the Will.
Williams’ wife, Susan, petitioned the court to prevent his children from taking possession of the contents of their San Francisco Bay home. She claimed the items in the home should be excluded from the estate. William’s children responded to the petition claiming their stepmother was trying to change the terms of the trust to deprive them of their father’s personal belongings and memorabilia.
Now one year later, the parties have narrowed down the fight to about 300 items and an issue regarding a monetary distribution to Williams’ widow. In June, a judge gave the parties until July 29 to settle their differences and reach an agreement. It is not clear if the parties met that deadline yet or if they will be able to settle the dispute without court intervention.
How Can I Prevent My Family From Fighting Over My Estate?
Possibly one of the most difficult steps in the estate planning process is the final step – to have a family meeting to discuss your wishes and instructions. Your attorney has advised you on what estate documents you need to accomplish your goals and you have executed those documents; however, your family needs to understand your wishes to avoid problems after your death or incapacitation. Having a revocable living trust, irrevocable trust, business succession plan, will, living will and/or a power of attorney are only the first steps in the estate planning process. Making sure your family knows what to do upon your death or incapacitation is the final step.
Organizing a family meeting that fosters an open, honest discussion is very important. Explaining your plans will help prevent confusion, hurt feelings and misunderstandings upon your death or incapacitation. This final step in the estate planning process is vital because it allows you to express your feelings and reasons for how you have established your estate. It also gives your family an opportunity to ask any questions they may have about your final wishes.