Dear Michael: I wanted to write and tell you a story about what happens when you don’t get things done. We had come and talked to you about twenty years ago when I first started farming with Dad and Mom on the family farm.
At the time, all of us children were young and we got along so well. I was working with my parents on the farm and my brother decided he wanted to pursue a different career. My sister was young at the time, sixteen, and didn’t seem to have any interest in farming.
When we talked to you, you told my parents not to treat us as we are now but to envision our family in the future. I remember you asked my dad “Do you have any siblings of your own?” Dad answered “I do – six of them – three brothers and three sisters”.
I remember you asked him “How would you like to be partners with ANY of your brothers or sisters right now??” My dad laughed. He said “I love my brothers and sisters but I know too much about them to be partners with them in my business. Two of them are divorced and need money. One, if he had a nickel he’d spend a dime. The rest of them are okay, but I don’t want to be partners with them”.
You told him and Mom that day “If that’s the way you feel, then don’t make your children partners in this farm operation”. Well, Mom took great offense to that telling Dad that us kids were different – that we (her kids) would never end up like Dad’s brothers and sisters. We were ‘good’ kids and we’d never argue like they had.
So, in spite of your advice, Dad and Mom kept their same will that divided everything three ways and told us to ‘work things out’. They told me I could buy the land at a cheap rate when they died.
I bought a lot of machinery together with Dad. I worked many years side by side with him, keeping the farm going through some mighty tough times. I tried to buy some of the land from Mom and Dad, but Dad always said ‘Why buy when you’ll end up with it anyway. You can buy it at two hundred an acre”.
My sister, who was young at the time did get married. She got married to the son of a nearby farmer. His father is very, very well-to-do and is a very aggressive farmer in our area. Whenever land comes up for sale, he’s sitting in the front row and very seldom leaves without what he wants.
Now, I’m fifty-four and Dad and Mom both passed away in the past two years. When it came time to read the wills and I was expecting to hear that I could buy the land from my siblings for two-hundred per acre, like my Dad had told me, I found I could buy it for the County Average. When I asked the attorney about the two hundred per acre, he said “Well, that’s what it was selling for at the time he did the will”! All these years I had put in working side by side with him and now I had to come up with close to fifteen hundred dollars per acre. You would think that was a bargain – and it is compared to what land really sells for.
However, when I went to my lender, they were not in the same mood as they were in past years. I now had to borrow over a million dollars – at age fifty-four – and my last two years I was just able to cover my operating debt. My little sister and her husband have come in with a more substantial offer because he’s backed by his dad’s money. My other brother – pushed by his wife – wants to take their offer because it gives them a lot more money than I can pay.
I know, in my heart of hearts, Dad and Mom wanted me, their oldest son, to keep the family’s name on the family farm. I have a son farming with me, but he’ll never get the chance to farm.
Tell all your readers this could happen to them! Don’t depend on your kids to ‘do the right thing’ twenty years later. Don’t believe they will always get along fine like they do today. Get things put into your will that make economic sense for the future of your family farm because sometimes things that ‘sound good’ aren’t good.
“Keeping the Family Farm in the Family”
Great Plains Diversified Services, Inc.
1424 W. Century Ave., Suite 208
Bismarck, ND 58503-0917
Toll Free: 1-800-373-4078