Wonder if Old McDonald had an estate plan?

Next to trucking, most people consider farming to be the backbone of this nation. Many North Carolina residents make their livings tilling the land and producing crops that provide sustenance and profit to millions of people from east to west. If you're part of a family that's been farming the same land for decades, you've likely had one or more conversations about the future, specifically: what's to become of the family farm when the current owners pass from this life.

Whether you're the eldest adult child in line for succession, or one of many siblings who stand to inherit your parents' farm assets, if there's no estate plan in place, things may get a little complicated. Childhood nursery rhymes and songs about farms typically don't include lyrics regarding estate planning. However, if Old McDonald were a real fellow, he'd likely understand the importance of executing a solid plan before it's too late.

What keeps people from planning their estates?

Some people simply don't like to discuss their own mortality. Others consider death a natural part of life's progression. The latter are far more likely to be proactive in documenting their wishes and plans to provide for their family's future. Those in the former group may need a little nudge. People often cite one or more of the following reasons as causal factors in estate owners' hesitance to execute written plans:

  • Many people worry that as soon as they formulate an estate plan, the government will change its tax laws or other regulations that may impact their estates.
  • Some farm owners think that as long as they let their children know what they want insofar as business succession is concerned, then everything is fine. They fail to realize that without a set plan in place, there's no guarantee their instructions will be carried out when the time comes.
  • Some people simply fear the estate planning process, thinking it's too stressful or complex for them to navigate.
  • There are also those who are naturally inclined to procrastinate. For many, it comes down to simply making up their minds to begin the estate planning process, then following through.

Even if you're not the actual farm owner, you can broach the topic with your family members. Perhaps, the estate owners (likely, your parents) would welcome the discussion, but have been shy about raising the topic themselves. Many potentially problematic issues can be worked out through open, forthright conversation, such as who will be shareholders in the estate, who will manage farm affairs, and how assets will be distributed to keep the family business going.

It often helps to have an outside person of support present when working through early estate planning discussions. An experienced probate and administration attorney is a good choice, since he or she can clarify North Carolina law, and provide sound counsel regarding any questions or concerns that may arise.

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