Dear Michael: My husband passed away seven years ago. In his will he said our son is able to farm the land until age sixty-five and he could pay the average land rent in our county. I had a farm contract with him every year, up until two years ago when he made all sorts of excuses not to sign one. For the past four years he has not been honoring the contracts and paying whatever he wants, whenever he wants and this puts me in a financial bind and having to borrow money. I have a daughter and she, also, feels this is not right, but my son and his wife don’t feel that there is a problem and keep saying, “We are family and we help each other out.” If I get an attorney, it will make things worse. This is tearing our family apart. What do I do? And how do I make this fair with my estate planning? I would appreciate hearing from you. A taken advantage of mother.
Dear Taken Advantage Of: You stated “in your husband’s will, your son was given the right to farm the land by paying the county average for like land up until age sixty-five.” How was the property owned prior to your husband’s death? If it was in joint tenancy with right of survivor, then all the land went to you and the need to meet the terms of his will would only be in honorarium at best.
Even so, most people do want to honor these terms – legal or otherwise – until someone doesn’t meet these terms – namely your son. I would have an easier time understanding this situation if it had popped up in the last year with the sudden change in prices. But four years ago, paying county average should have led to some tremendous profits in farming – which obviously went to other places than paying Mom her rent. When you have to borrow money to live, then it’s gotten way over the line.
Never the less, a deal is a deal and your son isn’t living up to his end of the deal. However, without bringing a suit against him (hiring an attorney to defend your rights), you only have a few options.
Option one is to explain to your son if he doesn’t want to pay the rent, you’ll advertise the land for rent to the general public. If he doesn’t want to sign a contract, I’m sure there will be many people who will and they’ll make certain, once they have the contract in hand, the rent is paid on time.
Option number two is to pass the land on to your daughter and leave it in her hands to make certain the rent is paid. I don’t think she’d have the same qualms as you do about hiring an attorney to make things right. If your son asks, just say “It’s out of my hands.”
Option three is to put the land up for sale. If the land passed to you via will or by deed, the land is yours to do with what you want. If you put it up for sale, it might wake up Sonny and make him realize he’d better meet his end of the deal. If he gives you a hard time, move away.
The last option is to take the land to your banker, borrow enough money off of it to meet the shortage in rent every year, and when the banker says ‘We have to sell the land” then that’s what will happen – if you live that long.
As far as not burning any bridges, your son, for whatever reason, lit his end of the bridge on fire four years ago when he refused to sign a contract. For some reason, he feels it’s okay for his Mamma to have to go out and borrow money to live. Paying you what he wants or when he wants was never part of the deal and Poppa would come out of his grave if he knew this is what is going on.
Everyone wakes up every morning facing choices. Some choices lead to your betterment in life and some lead to your detriment. But when the choice to do something for your betterment comes at the cost of someone else’s detriment – to the extent your referring to – then it’s time to make the right choices for yourself.
It seems like society has changed. “It’s all good as long as it’s all good for ME – then it’s okay to do whatever you want” seems to be the new mantra. I’m here to tell you that is not right. This country is going the path of many fallen countries when individuals feel like whatever they feel is right for everyone and the heck with what someone else feels. I’m tired of it, the country is tired of it, and the voting recently shows the voters are tired of it. Sorry about your son, but it’s time he woke up and smelled the coffee!
“Keeping the Family Farm in the Family”
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