Our 33-year-old daughter was lamenting the fact that there is no longer a Sears Christmas Wish book. Decades ago she delighted in flipping pages of the coloured catalogue seeking out requests for her wish list, hoping that the cherished gifts would be under our Christmas tree.
I remember the not-so-happy Christmas when some of the gifts were “recycled” or pre-owned magazines, books, and book racks. The hurt that “we weren’t made to feel very special that year” still lingers.
When you Google “buy nothing for Christmas” you can see a completely different approach to not buying into the gift-giving frenzy that December may harbour.
“How do we tell our non-farming children they are not getting a raw deal?” That question was part of my online course pre-work survey, and I don’t make these things up!
Founders in transition are worried about more than what is going to be under the Christmas tree this year. They stress about the tax changes proposed by the federal government, and even with concessions, there is a great deal of uncertainty in tax planning, according to the tax experts I’ve listened to.
So what can you do to explain “the deal?”
The deal is the plan for the transition of labour, management and ownership of your farm. Labour usually transfers first when the young backs and internet technology whizzes arrive to work on the farm. Then there is the transition of roles and responsibilities, marketing, operations, and risk strategy as Dad and Mom pull back from working so hard, and give the next generation a chance to show their management skills. Hopefully this is done as a collaborative decision-making process. Years quickly go by, then grandbabies arrive, and the successors wonder when they will get a piece of equity in the farm. Their siblings are also parenting and paying mortgages in the city or towns that beckoned them away from the farm.
What is the raw deal?
For some non-business heirs, it may seem like a raw deal when they don’t get access to the same amount of wealth that their farming successor siblings do. I think this sentiment needs to be processed with an earlier question to all adult children:
“What does fairness look like to you as we transition our farm assets to your sibling(s)?” It also begs founders to create a personal wealth bubble beyond the farm to have cash assets to flow to non-farm heirs.
Most farm successors are not planning to flip the farm for cash in the next 10 or 20 years. So the assets of land, machinery and livestock are part of the critical mass that they need to cash flow debt, buy food, and have a decent life. I recall a young dairy farmer who was deeply saddened that his cousins and uncles were well set up, but when it became his turn to have equity, the extended family still wanted more! This young farmer was clearly passionate about farming, and he was also willing to be a financial safety net for his siblings, should that need arise. Some lawyers have pro-rated clauses in the estate plan should the successor sell out within a pre-described time. Greed is greed.
We are talking about your family’s core values, beliefs, and culture of support. We have assured siblings that we will support them if they get snagged in tough financial times, and that was a great relief to them. There is no culture of “raw deal” in our clan, as we have discussed what each person expects, needs and wants. Ultimately the parents decide. I also suspect gifts of a college education (worth over $200K according to my financial planning colleagues, home mortgage down payments, etc. have been gifted by the farm at an earlier stage).
I suspect the folks who are kept awake at night wondering how to find the magical fairness formula have not been clear that their needs come first. They would be wise to let go of children who are never satisfied no matter how much they are given. Recall the young child tearing off gift-wrapping paper, only to exclaim, “Is that all there is?” Yikes.
It is time to formulate the WHY behind your gifting of farm assets, and the WHY for the assets or shares that need to be bought by your successors. Consider this quote:
“Keep your goal in sight. It was the philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche who said, ‘Develop your why & you can bear almost any how.’ A worthwhile goal serves as the fuel that you need to drive your engine toward success. Keep your goal in mind and focus on what moves you forward.”
If your biggest why is to keep the farm intact, with a legacy of management by the next generation or your joint venture partner, then share your reasons with all of your children and their spouses. My parents’ family meeting in July 1998 clearly stated that my farming brother would be given the most assets, and that came to pass six short weeks later when my mom died in the middle of harvest of an asthma attack. Her shares rolled to my farming brother. I was fine with that because I did not need financial gifts from my parents, I needed their legacy of love and blessing.
Sometimes your children will be wealthier than you are. They won’t “need” monetary gifts, but will always appreciate your respect, love, and consideration. If you don’t agree with how your children spend money on homes, toys, and vacations, you don’t get to judge, you give gifts without expectation or manipulation. You can also give those gifts to charity or folks who actually need a financial boost.
Jim Snyder of BDO has a daughter who quipped that “fairness is helping everyone to be successful” and the word equal does not appear here. In some old country cultures, each child was always expected to be given the same amount, and that is a recipe for fighting in the reality of 2017 estates. Money in my books does not equal love. Words and affirmation and meaningful physical touch were freely given by my farming parents to bless me.
You may have to let go of your need to “please” everyone. One non-farm sibling confided that she was not pleased that land values had jumped so much, and she wishes she had held on to her gifted quarter rather than selling to her farming brother. This is “woulda, coulda, shoulda, language” that fuels discontent and is not helpful.
Raw deal? I think not. Why are you allowing that descriptor to be part of your family story? Hire a facilitator to navigate the tough conversations about fairness that you are avoiding. Start pencilling out your “why” about the gifts you wish to give to build legacy on your farm. Have this family meeting after Boxing Day.
Celebrate Christmas as the Incarnation of Christ, what it truly is. Be grateful.