The Future of Your Farm’s Estate: Top 6 Considerations
As a Canadian farmer, you’ve lived through your fair share of unpredictability. Whether it was the farm crisis or one too many years of lackluster harvests, you took your farm through the worst combinations Mother Nature and the markets could throw at you, beating the odds to build something your family is truly proud of.
Looking back at the ups and downs of farming, you’d never take any of it back. And you want to leave the challenge behind for the next generation, so that your family’s legacy can continue to flourish long after you’re gone.
Successful farmers are constantly thinking about what’s next. If you’re over 50, planning the future of your farm should be your top task. The work you put in now could set your farm’s estate up for one of the most anticipated outcomes in your entire farming career. You know how rare that can be in the agriculture industry!
Speaking of your career, you’ve worn many hats over the years: accountant, labourer, veterinarian, weatherman, mechanic, scientist – the list goes on. Through the demands of your job, you’ve learned to ask for help when you need it. So if you’re willing to call your neighbour down the road at harvest, you should be willing to work with the expert up the street on financials.
A financial advisor provides leadership when you need it. He or she has your best interests in mind while navigating the blind spots of your farm’s estate, connecting a knowledgeable team of specialists to determine how to best plan your family farm’s future. The most common regrets farm estate financial advisors hear from farmers are that they wish they would have talked about it either ten years earlier before they lost their health or before inflation led to a big misstep in their tax strategy.
You may be thinking about farm estate planning because you’ve been pressed by your child who’s made sacrifices for the farm or you’ve witnessed what happens when farmers leave a mess behind. Don’t wait until things fall apart. If you have a lot of unanswered questions about your farm’s estate, proper planning will bring clarity to problems that exist and provide answers that may solve them. Bring in your biggest concerns and prepare to give your financial advisor honest answers to the following questions.
These are the top six considerations when you’re farm estate planning:
- How do I want to spend the rest of my life?
Is it important to maintain the standard of living that you’ve become accustomed to? Or will you sacrifice your standard of living in the future so your kids can farm?
There are a variety of options for either scenario. For example, if you’re retiring, you could potentially sell two quarters of land so you can continue to live comfortably.
- How can I minimize the tax impact?
This is a big one as there are many opportunities. Financial advisors minimize the tax impact on a farmer who’s turning the farm over to the children who will be farming moving forward. They do this through a framework of tax minimization strategies such as capital gains exemptions or tax-deferred rollover options.
- Do I want to consider family harmony?
Having more than one child makes handing off the farm estate to one child a complicated matter. Land prices are high and farm values are increasing to millions of dollars. What happens often is that suddenly you have a $5 or $10 million farm and the children who haven’t chosen farming get nothing or very little as part of the farm estate.
Financial advisors try to find out if giving non-farming children a fair payout is a priority. If it is important, they help you get a life insurance plan in place to compensate them when the moment comes. For example, if your farm is transferred to one child, the other two children will receive a large insurance contract.
Sometimes farming children have made sacrifices to help their parents on the farm. They built equity in the farm when they could have worked somewhere else. In other cases, farming children were paid fairly and didn’t have to sacrifice, but the farm value went up and they want a piece of it. It’s critical to look objectively at the effort that’s been made to reward your children fairly.
- Are my children’s marriages strong?
Your farm could have been in your family for three or four generations. Over that time, your family might have built outside assets and a large nest egg. One divorce could cost half of your family farm and more. Most farmers don’t want to pass their hard-earned estate onto someone who isn’t family.
Divorce is common. Talk about how it could affect your farm before the nuptials. Your future in-laws should know your farm is protected in the event of a marital breakdown.
Financial advisors recommend pre- or post-nuptial contracts. The best time to write this contract is before the marriage but it can happen afterwards. For instance, “We’re not passing the farm onto you unless you sign this contract that says if your marriage doesn’t make it down the road, the farm will stay in our family name.”
This conversation is critical because farms are now worth millions. If you don’t take precautions on nuptials, half of your family farm could disappear.
- Is my succession plan viable?
Most farmers choose to pass the land on to their children. But what happens if all of your children go off to university and don’t come back to farm? If you do have a child who wants to continue farming, have you thought about whether he or she would make a good successor?
Financial advisors recognize when people have the financial acumen to run the business and operations side of farming. And when they don’t.
For example, your middle-aged child could have been farming his entire life but doesn’t have a penny to his name. He likely isn’t the ideal financial custodian of your estate. A good financial advisor must tell you what they’ve observed and make sure you’re indicating that in the plan. Otherwise, handing your farm over to a child who continually mismanages money could cost your family’s legacy soon after you sign over the farm.
It’s your responsibility to make it possible for your successor to succeed. Whoever you choose, you’ll want to ensure that the farm estate will be financially viable moving forward.
- What are my objectives?
You and your spouse may have different goals of what to do with the farm estate. For example, one of you may want to transfer everything and the other could be more conservative.
Financial advisors will ask questions to find out what’s important to each of you. This will give you an idea of where you may want to compromise and what you’re not willing to let go. Then, they’ll begin to coordinate legal and accounting to finalize your farm’s estate plan.
You don’t want to leave critical decisions related to succession planning, marital breakdowns, unexpected taxes and more to a spouse who could be reeling after you’re gone. Managing your farm estate without a plan is the biggest mistake you can make as a farmer. Talk to your Wiegers Financial & Benefits financial advisor if you’re over 50 with questions about your farm estate planning.
Cliff Wiegers, CFP, TEP, CH.F.C., CLU, B.Comm.
Financial Planner, Manulife Securities Investment Services Inc.
Insurance Representative, Wiegers Financial and Insurance Planning Services Ltd.