Succession Planning for Farm Transition and Estate Planning

If you think it’s bad that 60% of farmers don’t have a will, here’s what’s even worse: 89% don’t have a farm transfer plan, as reported in the recent article “10 Farm Transition and Estate Planning Mistakes from Farm Journal’s Pork Business. Here are the ten most commonly made mistakes farmers make. Substitute the word “family-owned business” for farm and the problems created are identical.

Procrastination. Just as production methods have to be updated, so does estate planning. People wait until the perfect time to create the perfect plan, but life doesn’t work that way. Having a plan of some kind is better than none at all. If you die with no plan, your family gets to clean up the mess.

Failing to plan for substitute decision-making and health care directives. Everyone should have power of attorney and health care directive planning. A business or farm that requires your day-in-day-out supervision and decision making could die with you. Name a power of attorney, name an alternate POA and have every detail of operations spelled out. You can have a different person to act as your agent for running the farm and another to make health care decisions, or the same person can take on these responsibilities. Consult with an estate planning attorney to be sure your documents reflect your wishes and speak with family members.

Failing to communicate, early and often. There’s no room for secrecy, if you want your farm or family business to transfer successfully to the next generation. Schedule family meetings on a regular basis, establish agendas, take minutes and consider having an outsider serve as a meeting facilitator.

Treating everyone equally does not fit every situation. If some family members work and live on the farm and others work and live elsewhere, their roles in the future of the farm will be different. An estate planning attorney familiar with farm families will be able to give you suggestions on how to address this.

Not inventorying assets and liabilities. Real property includes land, buildings, fencing, livestock, equipment and bank accounts. Succession planning requires a complete inventory and valuation of all assets. Check on how property is titled to be sure land you intend to leave to children is not owned by someone else. Don’t neglect liabilities. When you pass down the farm, will your children also inherit debt? Everyone needs to know what is owned and what is owed.

Making decisions based on incorrect information. If you aren’t familiar with your state’s estate tax laws, you might be handing down a different sized estate than you think. Here’s an example: in Iowa, there is no inheritance tax due on shares left to a surviving spouse, lineal descendants or charitable, religious, or educational institutions. If you live in Iowa, do you have an estate plan that takes this into consideration? Do you know what taxes will be owed, and how they will be paid?

Lack of liquidity. Death is expensive. Cash may be needed to keep the business going between the date of death and the settling of the estate. It is also important to consider who will pay for the funeral, and how? Life insurance is one option.

Disorganization. Making your loved ones go through a post-mortem scavenger hunt is unkind. Business records should be well-organized. Tell the appropriate people where important records can be found. Walk them through everything, including online accounts. Consider using an old-fashioned three-ring binder system. In times of great stress, organization is appreciated.

No team of professionals to provide experience and expertise. The saying “it takes a village” applies to estate planning and farm succession. An accountant, estate planning attorney and financial advisor will more than pay for their services. Without them, your family may be left guessing about the future of the farm and the family.

Thinking your plan is done at any point in time. Like estate planning, succession planning is never really finished. Laws change, relationships change and family farms go through changes. An estate plan is not a one-and-done event. It needs to be reviewed and refreshed every few years.

Reference: Farm Journal’s Pork Business (June 28, 2021) “10 Farm Transition and Estate Planning Mistakes

Make the Most of a Roth IRA, Even If You’re Not Ultra-Wealthy

While it may seem like only the ultra-wealthy benefit from a Roth IRA, this retirement tool is an excellent tax shelter that anyone can use, reports CNBC.com in the recent article “The ultra-wealthy have made full use of Roth individual retirement accounts. Here’s how you can do the same.” One of PayPal’s founders, Peter Thiel, had $5 billion in a Roth IRA as of 2019, according to a ProPublica report. It said that he used a self-directed Roth account, which allows the owner to hold alternative assets, like shares in a private company or real estate that generally can’t be placed in a regular Roth.

Traditional 401(k) plans and IRAs offer a tax break, when contributions are made. Taxes are paid upon withdrawal, which is supposed to happen only after a certain age when you’ve retired. By contrast, the Roth versions of the 401(k) and IRA don’t have the tax break up front—you have to pay taxes on the money or assets when making contributions—but there are no taxes paid upon withdrawal, and there are no required withdrawals, as there are with traditional IRAs and 401(k)s.

You pay income taxes on the money placed into the account, and then it grows tax free. You can take it out anytime, as long as the account has been owned for at least five years and you are age 59½ or older. Self-directed Roth IRAs permit tax-free growth and untaxed distributions plus investments can be made that are not available in regular Roth accounts.

Theil had private company shares in his self-directed Roth IRA, before PayPal was a publicly traded company. He benefited from both timing and savvy investment skills.

Self-directed IRAs are generally available only through specialized custodians. Brand-name financial companies don’t offer them. The custodians that hold self-directed IRAs do not manage the account or police what investments are placed into the accounts, so you’ll need the advice of a tax-savvy estate planning attorney to be sure you are following the rules. Note that there can also be valuation issues. The value of alternative assets is not as clear as publicly traded securities. You’ll need to get the value right, so you don’t break any tax laws. Once assets are in the account, you can sell them and use the proceeds to purchase other instruments in the account, all under the same tax-free Roth protection.

Even if you don’t use a self-directed Roth IRA, the standard Roth IRA yields many benefits. We don’t know what the future tax environment will be, but tax-free withdrawals in the future, combined with high-growth assets, make the Roth IRA a good choice for retirement nest eggs.

Reference: CNBC.com (June 24, 2021) “The ultra-wealthy have made full use of Roth individual retirement accounts. Here’s how you can do the same”