As parents, we strive to make life better for our kids. It’s almost an expected responsibility. Yet, practically every adult has at some point looked at the next generation and thought, “Wow, are they spoiled! They have no idea how easy they have it!” We want a better life for them, but are they entitled to it? It becomes a slippery slope for both the off-farm and the farming heirs. Could a sense of entitlement cause an issue with your farm succession?
I recently had a conversation with an individual who was on a community college committee. The committee involved community members and employers. The purpose was to determine how well the college was preparing students for future jobs. In general, the employers felt that colleges were doing an adequate job of preparing people for the technical aspects of their jobs. However, there were a couple key frustrations.
One of them was the fact that the younger generation was constantly texting and on social media while on the job. Imagine that! If you have been around any teenagers you know what that is like. Texting is also a rare disease that has been passed up a generation in some families. Now some adults can’t keep their thumbs off the phone either.
Is everyone entitled to their social feed even when they are on the clock for someone else? Employers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the loss of productivity due to texting while the employer is paying the bill. I refer to that disease as OPM. That stands for Other People’s Money. The employee’s are not worried about someone else’s money, just their own.
The employers continued to talk about entitlement mentality, and its impact on the workplace. They said that the young employees felt entitled to the best job at the best pay with the best benefits on day one while having no experience. I was happy to hear that I was not the only one irritated by that mentality. I also wondered, is that how most older farmers got started farming? I’m thinking not!
Shortly after hearing this committee feedback, I was driving through a town and was going to make a right turn on a green light. A high school age boy and his girlfriend were near the corner and proceeded through the crosswalk without even the thought of looking and observing potential danger. I immediately stopped and allowed them to proceed. The girl, observing that they had just walked out in front of me quickly hurried up her walk, while the boy smugly looked over his shoulder and made no attempt to speed up. In fact, he may have even slowed down. Of course, it was very hard for me not to be judgmental because of his appearance but what blew me away is the guy’s attitude and that he thought he owned the road even though it is highly unlikely that he has ever paid a nickel in taxes. He is going to have to change his ways before he will become an attractive employee to anyone.
Where did that kind of thinking come from and what does that have to do with farm estate planning? Some farms families become concerned as they recognize that they may have some children or grandchildren feel that, just because they have a heartbeat, they are entitled to the farm. How many generations would a farm last with the attitude? Now I love seeing the families where the children are successful at whatever they are doing. The job may or may not be glamorous or the best paying but they do their job the best they can.
I recall working with a family and there were four children. They were doing what I would refer to as “post mortem” planning since dad and mom had now both passed away. Apparently their parents had decided on a “let the kids fight it out” philosophy and provided no distribution planning. The parents were exactly right and now the kids were engaged in a full-fledged family fight.
I listened to them outline what had been dad and mom’s estates and the main asset was 500 acres. One sister, who did not like the farm and left home the day after high school, wanted to sell her share right now for fair market value which was appraised at $10,400 per acre. One brother thought his new son in-law should have a chance to farm his acres. One brother was fine just renting his share to his farming brother and the farming heir wanted to farm and keep all the land together.
Keeping it all together seemed like a pretty natural goal for the farming heir. I suggested a couple buy out options both now and as siblings passed away to address everyone’s desires. It was a combination of loans and life insurance that seemed to cash flow pretty well for the farming heir. However, he seemed put off with the idea of buying land.
That’s when it got interesting. I asked the 50 year old farming heir how much land he had of his own. He responded with the number “zero”. For 30 years he had farmed and never taken a chance with his own money. He had said he wanted to keep the farm together, but it really came down to it, he did not want to make any sacrifices to make it happen.
His opinion was that he should get it all without any cost and he continued by saying that his 28 year old son was also interested in farming, and he wanted to give him a chance to farm. I asked him what his son was currently doing and he responding with “Nothing, I think he should get a job but he can’t find anything that he wants to do.” I was thinking “who cares if he likes the job or not! Does he want to farm or not? If he does, then get to work!” Then I thought more and realized that the 28 year old had learned from his dad. My mind then spun to thinking about the daughter who wanted to sell and top dollar was the only acceptable number.
Both the off-farm heir AND the farming heir thought they “owned the whole road.”
What is the message? To younger parents I would encourage you to talk to your kids about working for things and understanding that you don’t always get what you want right away. Hard work, good education, respect and thankfulness are not suggestions, they are expectations. To older parents you need to do proper planning to clarify both where you want your assets to go and how they will be valued. If you sense an entitled mentality you better have something in place that addresses that type of mindset.