Iowa farm families are traditionally very close-knit folks. So the death of any family member will take a heavy toll on even the strongest of them. All the more so when the family loses its patriarch. Now, along with the grief of losing the head of the family, there is the burden of having to make critical decisions about the future of the farm in the absence of the one person who always seemed to know what to do.
The whirlwind of emotions coupled with the pressure of keeping the farm moving forward often proves to be too great a burden for widows and other survivors. Decisions that should be made often aren’t. Decisions that must be made are often made poorly or based on emotion rather than reason.
Even worse, such times often put family members at odds with each other and the farm legacy at risk. If there’s no plan to deal with such a loss, the survivors are left to decide for themselves what’s best for the farm and the family. Disagreements are sure to follow.
One issue in particular that we see come up all too often is whether to continue leasing land to the current tenant. From a purely logical point of view, this is a simple matter of doing what’s best for the farm. And in most cases, the tenant you have is as good or better than any tenant you could hope to find.
But don’t forget – tenants are rarely strangers. They are commonly family or close friends. So what happens when keeping the current tenant isn’t what’s best for the farm? How do you tell your own family or an old friend that you no longer wish for them to work your land? Who is responsible for delivering such news?
Of course, these questions deal only with the emotional aspects of such weighty issues. There are also legal matters that must be considered after the death of a farm principal. Does it even need to be said that making important legal decisions while under emotional duress is never a good idea?
So What’s a Family To Do?
Well, start with placing the burden on a third party. Bring in a manager, mediator, or legal representative who:
- Understands the complexities of family farming.
- Is qualified to advise on important legal issues.
- Can distance themselves from the emotional aspects and make decisions and recommendations that are truly in the best interest of everyone involved.
Ideally, you’d have this third party in place before the loss. Planning ahead and knowing who will be making decisions through difficult times can avoid a lot of hurt feelings and misunderstandings – things that may not heal for years, if ever. But even if you don’t enlist the help of a representative until after a death, their help can still be decisive in protecting both family and farm.
What Will Your Farm Legacy Be?
In a recent poll of people over 90 years old, they asked the participants what they would change about their lives. The number one answer is that they would have “stopped and smelled the roses” more often. A close second was the wish to leave something behind that out lived them – a legacy. Is there any better legacy than a harmonious family and the successful family farm for generations to come?
If you have questions about protecting your legacy or need help navigating the challenges after a loss, come talk with the farm managers and land brokers of Iowa Land Sales and Farm Management. We have farm families of our own and we are committed to the philosophy of “leaving things better than we found them.”