The widow’s story
I have had the privilege and heartache of sitting with many widows who have recently lost their farming husbands.
A widow will often speak of her husband and his amazing ability to make decisions and handle the numerous farming demands placed upon him. Decisions like: what crop insurance to buy, the right value of the put and the call, the appropriate lease rate and the appropriate amount to spend on that quarter of ground.
They speak of their husband’s ability to roll with the punches that come with being a farmer — unpredictable weather, government regulations, moisture levels — and the storms of life that come with living in this world: the cancer diagnosis, the child with addictions, the overdue loan.
Their husbands had successfully managed their farming operations, and had accomplished much in providing well for their families.
But then the unexpected happened — a massive stroke, heart attack, or farm accident — and everything changed. Suddenly, these husbands were not there to make those decisions or to be the rock that weathers the storms of life. But decisions still needed to be made. And so it fell on their widows to make the day-to-day decisions, as well as even bigger decisions: Who will keep the farming operations going? How will the farm meet the production requirements for what has been contracted? How do I make sure I have enough income to cover the taxes owed, land payments, repair expenses, hired-man wages and my regular daily living expenses?
Their husbands were able to manage the numerous demands of the operations. But like many, their husbands failed to put a long-term plan into place for when they would no longer be in the operations. They meant to. They they knew they needed to, or knew they should, have an estate plan.
I am sure these husbands had their reasons why they didn’t get estate plans done. Perhaps it was the time commitment. There is much to maintain on the farm and no time to get away for an estate planning meeting. Perhaps it was the expense. Admittedly, a quality estate plan that protects the farmland from a sale by partition action and clearly spells out various operational issues, including any lease rates and lease options, will cost more than a two-page last will and testament.
It’s a heartache, though. Most farming operations will spend more time maintaining one tractor for one growing season than they will spend on designing and implementing their estate plan to protect their entire estate, their family, their legacy.
These excuses seem hollow when sitting across the table from a widow now facing not only the loss of a loved one, but also the daunting task of trying to make the decisions regarding her livelihood. Suddenly decisions regarding the entire family legacy fall on her shoulders. Oftentimes, she has never had to make these decisions on her own before.
There is a range and a rage of emotions when facing the loss of a farming husband, and often widows will talk through “if only.” If only he hadn’t ignored the warning signs. If only he hadn’t gone on that road that day. If only he’d taken the time to position their estate better, to spell out what should happen in the event he died. These “if onlys” are all the more heartbreaking because they can change nothing. In reality, one cannot go back.
Much in life is out of our control. But you can take steps to have your affairs in order. The four- to eight-hour time commitment and cash expense required to complete an estate plan seem trivial to the peace of mind, for both husband and wife, that comes from knowing a long-term plan is in place if something does happen to the primary farm operator.
Commit today to investing the time and resources necessary to plan well — not only for your present, but for what may come in the future. Your loved ones will thank you.
Thompson, of Sioux Falls, S.D., is an estate planning attorney. For more information, contact her at 605-362-9100 or see www.cathompsonlaw.com.
This article published in the June, 2014 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2014.