What did I hear you say? We always seem to have projects going on at our place. My family often rolls their eyes when they hear me say we have another project to do. That’s probably because I typically underestimate the time and energy it will take to complete the project. What I think I say and what they hear me say are often two different things.

On a recent project, I was on the phone with a contractor, and I asked him if they work on Saturdays. He had a little bit of an accent, but he responded, “We usually curse Saturdays.” I said, “Whoa, I am surprised that you curse Saturdays!” He responded again, “Yeah we kind of like to curse Saturdays.” 

I told him how I actually like to work on Saturdays because it usually involves an outdoor project. I jokingly asked him if he cursed on Saturdays, did that mean he that still praised on Sundays? He then clarified, “No, I mean we curse… you know, like coast.” I started laughing at myself.

“Oh, you are saying cruise?” I asked. He said, “Yeah that’s what I’ve been saying!” “Oh,” I said “So, you like to cruise, or take it easy, on Saturdays?” He said “Yes.” Now we were both laughing! A simple misunderstanding over one little word.

Think about how misinterpretation can impact farm estate planning.  When a parent says to a child, “Don’t worry, our estate plan takes care of everything”, what does that mean? What would you hear if someone said that to you? Does that mean their plan is completely done? Does that mean that every dollar is split evenly between each child? Does that mean that the one who’s farming gets the land? Does that mean that rental or buyout options are in place? What was said, and what was meant?

What would you hear if your parents said you’ll get a “break on the land?”  Does that mean you will get more land than your siblings? Does that mean you’ll have an option to rent or buy the land? Is it a first option to buy or a first right of refusal? Who controls it? Does that mean a discount of 10%, 30%, or 50% for the purchase? Or will special use valuation be applied? What do you think was said and what do you think was meant? 

What do you think when Dad says “You will get to farm the land when I retire?” Does that mean it will happen at age 65, 75 or 85? Or does he retire the day he dies? Does that mean that he will make all the decisions until that day and will stay living on the home farm until whatever day he chooses?

“Next time corn and beans go up I’m going to sell a bunch.” What does that mean? Does that mean when corn goes up a dime, a dollar, or two dollars? Does a bunch mean ten thousand bushels, a hundred thousand bushels, or three hundred thousand bushels?  “Next week we are going to take it easy.” Does that mean going on vacation? Does that mean only working 50 hours? Does that mean stopping at 5 pm?

We need to go one step further to verify what was heard is what was meant.  When you don’t understand what someone means, you need to clarify it just like I did with my contractor. With farm estate planning, a misunderstanding can lead to a multimillion-dollar error. It can drive a wedge between family members and generationally impact the farm operation. That’s not something that anyone wants to hear.