Have you ever been somewhere or been doing something where everything is just clicking along great, and then something that seems relatively small happens and it throws everything off course?

I don’t get to haul corn often, but when I do, I enjoy the break. Recently, I was hauling corn to an ethanol plant. There were 10 lanes for the semi’s at this plant and the system is simple. The trucks start filling up lane 1, then lane 2, and then they continue filling each lane until you get to the 10th lane. Then you start all over again. That system never changes unless there is no line at all. Then it’s a “drive through”. It’s so simple that it seems crazy to think that someone could screw that up. Yet, the past two times I have been there, “that one guy” showed up. You know, the one who messes up the whole system and makes everything confusing and frustrating for everyone else. He went into the wrong lane. So now which lane should the following person go into? Should they go to where they know they should go? Or do they follow the person in front of them who screwed up the system?

As you would expect, I watched as trucks continued to come in and some went where they should go, and some followed the person in front of them. You could tell by the pause on the road before turning in that the next driver always knew something was not right. Of course, this all was unfolding as 30 other trucks were left wondering which line the next truck would go, and who would go next when it got to that point!

Some lines were not affected. But for other lines, a truck may have come in behind them but ended up going ahead of them. You could almost see the tension rising as some were thinking, “They better not go first!”. I’m sure other lines thought they should go first and maybe others had no clue what just happened. Imagine that. A larger group of people picking sides, judging each other, and getting upset over a mistake one person made.

So, what could derail a farm plan when they had most of the things right?

Maybe there’s not a clear definition of who gets various land parcels or how land will be valued for a buyout. Maybe the rental rate is not defined. I had one where the children got in a fight over the shop tools including a welder and air compressor. Really!?

I had another where there was a lot of tension over the valuation of a 30-year-old livestock facility. Then another where some assets were jointly purchased between a father and son. They understood the ownership, but the others did not because it wasn’t well-documented. I had another where a son-in-law assumed that if the daughter he married predeceased her parents, he should get that share as if he were the heir. I’ve seen times where there are questions about whether adopted children or step-children qualify for an inheritance. I have seen tension about who “gets the debt”. I’ve also seen arguments between executors or powers-of-attorney or trustees when too many are listed.

With a farm operation, can you imagine the potential for family members, spouses, and advisors to quickly pick sides after someone passes away? Can you imagine how quickly a small problem can become a BIG problem?

There is the good old church campfire song that has a line, “it only takes a spark to get a fire going” and that is true in so many ways! In many cases, these “big” problems can be traced back to a little problem. Whether your estate is big or small, keeping your plan simple and well-defined can minimize the chance of one small thing messing it up.