Schoepp: A promise with no timeline is not a succession play

The people in these four tales are very different but they all believed in a promise never fulfilled

There is no “someday” in a succession plan. There is either a solid road- map in which all stakeholders have had a say and is now a legal document, or there are empty promises.
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There are seven days in a week and someday isn’t one of them.

This popular saying could be made into a hit single — for farm succession.

A man I’ll call Rick is in his mid-60s and still ranching on the same land his grandfather homesteaded. And while that might sound ideal, he has no ownership.

He and his family have supplied the labour, the improvements, the livestock and the legacy for nearly 45 years. His wife has worked off farm to renovate a house they do not own that sits on land they do not have title to. All the extra cash has gone into cows — a depreciating asset. Time fled by, their daughters have left, and Rick and his wife are still waiting for that title transfer that was promised to them… someday.

Sam (all names have been changed in this column) has a large family and was promised the family farm.

He dedicated his life to the improvements on the farm without pay for 15 years, with a share of the calf crop and grain as his only income. The financial stress killed his marriage and one day he woke up to realize that “someday” was not coming. When he packed up his children and left, he did so with nothing. For they lived in a farmhouse on farmland that he had no legal right to sell. Starting again was tough but Sam grins when he says, “That was the best decision I ever made. I now work for me — every day.”

Julie is an only child and was promised the family farm “in a couple of years,” with the condition that she live there and help her parents. It would not be long, according to her parents, before she was free to make choices such as marriage and children. So certain was she in this promise that her life was put “on hold” for the sake of the farm.

As the years went by, it became a habit to simply stay home and do the work while also caring for her parents. “Someday” did not come, even on the eve of her parents’ deaths, for Julie now needs care herself and will move from the farm to have the assistance she needs. And while the sale of the family farm will provide for her future financial needs, the lack of ownership until now has cost her the life that she wanted — a partner, children and grandchildren.

Tom is young and determined to help his parents improve the family farm, but never asked the succession question.

Finally, after a decade of forgoing the education and career he dreamed of, he asked them about a promise they had made earlier to start succession planning with him. The parents were shocked; they now had no intention on splitting out the other children or selling the farm to him. Realizing that his version of “someday” and their vision differed, he packed his bags for university and has never looked back.

Sisters Jan and Holly are a fun pair with a wicked creative spirit.

Their brother has always lived in town and never has shown an interest in the farm. The sisters have harvested crops for more than a decade and made huge technical improvements on the family grain operation. It is a happy place with supportive husbands, busy children and a good income which they split with their parents.

There is an informal succession plan framework for the sisters to buy out the family farm over time. All is well until the brother does the math and discovers what he has been missing in terms of cash flow and land appreciation. He is now asking for his share. This throws the farm into allocating revenue to four parties, which is not possible. His earlier statements that he does not have interest in the farm were never recorded. There was just an informal agreement and an assumption that the farm would go to the girls… someday.

There is no “someday” in a succession plan.

There is either a solid roadmap in which all stakeholders have had a say and is now a legal document, or there are empty promises.

In these true stories, men and women were caught in the “someday” trap because they love the land and can see the possible in the family farm or ranch. They believe in the good of folks, love their community and when a trusted parent said it will be theirs “someday”, they believed it.

It is at the first offer, when the best thing to respectfully say to the parents, ‘Thank you! Now, let us work together and look at what information we need to know; who it is that we need for expert advice; how this will work for everyone including you, me and my siblings; where we will legalize and finance the transaction; and when you want to close the deal.’

This clarifies the discussion and moves to affirmative action.

Monday to Sunday and all days in between are the only days that hold promise for farm succession. “Someday” isn’t one of them.

About the author

AF Columnist

Brenda Schoepp

Brenda Schoepp works as an international mentor and motivational speaker. She can be contacted through her website at www.brendaschoepp.com. All rights reserved.

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