Part 3- Farm, Family & Finances:
A Fresh Perspective on Wills
Our third part in our Farm, Family and Finances series deals with hurt feelings over wills. How do we deal with our own potentially hurt feelings from the desires of a will? How do we mend other’s hurt feelings?
I believe assets distributed by a will are a gift. The attitude or expectation of “being owed or entitled” and the actual gifting of something may be quite different than your expectation. The gifting is determined by the owner of the assets, not you.
It’s important to build your life and business on what you control. You work hard and create your destiny. If a “gift” comes your way, you are blessed - not owed, nor entitled. Others may not have this philosophy, and you may not be able to change that. However, you can model how to live your earned and blessed life and conduct business transactions.
In a “business-first” family, you understand that “sweat equity” (earned compensation in lieu of market value salary) is transitioned every year at the annual meeting, not at the time of death or by a will under the guise of “work hard, and someday this will all be yours.” By conducting your business in this manner, those deserving, receive their “compensation” each year.
A legal exit strategy or buy-sell agreement that orchestrates the transition of assets with specific terms or the dissolution of a business is essential if asset owners want a business to continue with good will. One must consider how many years of work you are willing to put into a business without a buy-sell agreement or contractual agreement. You may be in a high-risk position for future ownership.
You have no option to change the directives of an executed will. The executor (personal representative) is carrying out the legal edicts of the will, but you personally may have an option to rectify the result. For example, a distant relative, surprisingly, left a financial gift to “cousins” of my generation. I noted two of my cousins weren’t listed. I called the attorney and asked, “If they had been included, what portion of my gift would have gone to each of them?” Then, I personally wrote a check to each.
With every interaction, do your best to be pleasant and polite regardless of another’s actions. Being generous and respectful of another’s position is the right thing to do. It may not change things, but you can sleep better at night.
Jolene Brown, CSP, CPAE is a Professional Speaker, Farmer, and Family Business Consultant based in West Branch, Iowa. This is part 3 of a 4-part series inspired and derived from Cape Fear Farm Credit’s Women in Ag event.