I know it’s tough to read this, but your parents are going to die – and probably before you do.
It sucks, I know. Not fun to think about (unless you don’t get along with your in-laws), but there it is. And unfortunately, you might need to start thinking about it now.
Let’s take this out of the personal and into the magical world of farms, because it is a tough issue. Farms, with the red barn, the cows, the tractor, chickens pecking around the feet of a greying gent or lady in blue coveralls.
And the fact that the farmer is greying is a big issue. Farmers are aging, making farming one of the oldest professions in the US. According to USDA data, one third of all farmers are over 65, with the average being over 57 years old (this compares to around 51 years for doctors, while we lawyers are spry young whippersnappers at 49).
Farmers need heirs; they need people to take over the operation, they need the land to be cared-for.
You may be surprised to know that within the last ten years, that transition has already begun. The other half of the story is that another third of farmers have only been farming for ten years. However, most of the folks that I know in this bracket are running their operation on their parent’s land. The elder farmers are retaining the land and the younger ones are renting it from them or merely managing operations. The transition is only partial.
I want you to imagine asking a farmer – someone who has fertilized the land of their forefathers with their own blood and sweat – to give their land up to the next generation.
Sounds like a super easy conversation, right? Imagine living in this family as an adult child, working the land but with uncertainty as to which of your brothers or sisters is going to be gifted land that you know they are just going to lose in a few years.
How does the conversation flow around the dinner table? Do you broach the subject, or do you think your farmer parent will? What will they say about your siblings? About the land? About your motives if you are the one to raise the issue?
I like to pick on farmers, because I love farmers and farming, and it will always be my secret career backup if Court jester doesn’t pan out, but the truth is that almost everyone – not just farmers – gets really quiet and really secretive about plans for their property when they die.
I think it is associated with our cultural fear of death. It is an uncomfortable subject for polite conversation – like religion, but I think it should be normalized. In my part of the world, perhaps some gentle humor can help break the ice, and if it is around a table – hot tea or coffee and plenty of snacky desserts. Believe, my friend, in the awesome power of cookies.
However, the subject of this post is supposed to be a guide about how to tell if you even need to bake the cookies, make the tea, and broach the subject. If the following list applies to you, you more than likely need to have this conversation with your folk/s.
How to Tell if You Need to Have ‘the Conversation'
- (1) You’ve never had the conversation.
- (2) You can’t answer your significant other when they ask about it, because you don’t know.
- (3) You’ve brought it up and the ‘rents changed the subject.
- (4) You don’t know how much debt me-maw has racked up over the years.
- (5) Your siblings know things about your parent’s finances that you don’t.
- (6) The parents drop hints, and you hold back on your response:
- You’re going to have so much fun going through our stuff when we’re gone. (no, ma, I’m really really really not. I need you to plan for this stuff to go before you’re gone)
- I’ll be gone, what do I care? (You don’t believe that. You raised me better than that.)
- Consider it bonding time with your siblings. (Ah yes, fighting for scraps in probate Court is the best place to bond.)
- Do you even know what all our stuff is worth? (I would if you told me and made a plan to sell it or give it to people who matter to you.)
- I don’t even own that much, I don’t need a will. (and what about your debt, pa-paw? And did you know that medicaid will take the few things you do have if you get sick without a plan?)
- Whether I have a will is none of your business (It will be my business when you’re gone and I’m in probate Court trying to tell them what you wanted.)
If this list applies to you, you more than likely need to bake the cookies, steep the tea, and sit your loving and caring parents down for a *gentle* conversation. I’ll give some advice on how to conduct that conversation in another post, but I find that the phrase “I don’t care where you decide your gifts should go, I just want to make sure there is a plan in place” is highly useful. Remember, the first step is to recognize that you have a problem.
If some of this resonates with you, follow me for more tips, and reach out now because it is time to get this done, and I’m here to help you.
For right now – what are your questions/problems/concerns about bringing this up with your parents? Drop your thoughts in the comments and I will do my best to answer. Or you might even see your question inspire a full blog post to go in depth!