While cleaning out our office desk at the farm, I came across a piece of paper with my grandma’s handwriting on it saying, “An inheritance is a gift, not an entitlement.”
I’ve been thinking all week about that phrase and how I can apply it to my own life. Being a farmland auctioneer and land agent, time and time again I’ve seen the greatest number of tears, arguments, and confusion come from inheriting parent’s personal possessions and property. Especially when inheriting the family farm with siblings and family members.
Inheriting the Family Farm
My Grandma Hoy passed away in December of 2020. My father inherited the family farm since he is the only survivor (besides my sister, half-brother, and I). Even though there were no fights over settling her estate due to only going to one heir, I can’t help but think what it would’ve been like if my dad’s brother was still alive. It makes me sad when I see families torn apart after their parents pass due to fighting over their inheritance gifts. It may surprise you but it happens more often than you think! Especially if there is already tension between siblings.
I’m extremely lucky and grateful for having a family farm! In 1944,mMy great-grandpa Ed bought our farm in Redfield, IA. My family has worked hard to keep it in the family ever since. My grandpa Hoy was the youngest of his siblings. After returning back from serving fro our country, my great-grandpa sold the farm to him. In 1958, my grandparents got married and two years later had my dad – a baby boomer. In 1964, is when my uncle was born but he passed away when he was 20.
I’ve seen my dad and grandparents work 24/7 on our farm. I can’t help but think what my life would’ve been like if I didn’t grow up as a farm kid. Agriculture has always been a big part of my life and my dream is to keep the family farm going. From the disputes I’ve seen between co-heirs, it makes me nervous for what will happen (God willing) when the farm is passed on to my younger sister, half-brother, and I. We all get along so extremely well currently! I don’t think the farm would ever tear us apart, but it’s always good to talk to one another about what will happen and Dad’s wishes for us.
Inheriting the Farm with Siblings
Between my siblings, I’m the most involved on the farm. My half-brother lives in North Carolina with his family and my sister doesn’t have the passion like I do for livestock and agriculture – which is okay! However, I do want them to enjoy the family farm and inheritance just as much as me without any fights. My half-brother and I often talk now about how we will do anything to keep the farm going. He loves riding dirt bikes, hunting, and having a place to escape and be free. This all makes my worries of ever fighting over the farm low.
Continuing the Family Farm After Inheritance
We are in the process of making sure Dad’s will is detailed. It will describe the roles and responsibilities of my siblings and I’s part of the farm after he passes. This will ensure the family farm continues and how we will receive his inheritance.
Talking about wills and what will happen after your parents’ pass is no one’s idea of fun. However, a well-planned, well-executed will can prevent family conflicts after a loved one passes. Again, FAMILY FEUDS OVER INHERITANCE HAPPENS MORE OFTEN THAN YOU’D LIKE TO SEE!
For many, it is not all about the money. Some are okay with having memories of their parent’s belongings. Others will argue over china sets, photo albums, tractors, and more. These fights are ugly and can split families forever unfortunately. You don’t think it will happen to your family and loved ones until it comes down to deciding who gets what and greed that sets in.
Arguments over inherited items and property can last for well over a year. I’ve seen this first hand as a farm real estate agent and auctioneer. Many of the fights are not over the items and land itself but working out old issues with each other and sibling rivalries.
You can easily picture siblings say things like “sibling a has always walked all over us” or “sibling b has always gotten the better deal”. It’s so expensive to fight these family disputes over family possession in court. Some people wind up spending MORE on legal fees than the estate is even worth.
Farm Estate Planning
Dying without a will or with a poorly drawn will can produce some truly awful results for your family. Even worse, your money and property can wind up in the wrong hands or in unexpected hands. How can you avoid these difficulties? I recommend hiring an experienced estate attorney to draft a comprehensive will. Iowa State University also has great resources for estate planning which can be found here.
Aging parents should ask their children what things they want most. Then make a hand written addendum to the will, bequeathing the most financially or sentimentally valuable items to specific individuals. Heirs might not get exactly what they want, but allowing people to speak their piece goes a long way towards PRESERVING family ties after the surviving parent passes away.
An inheritance is a gift not an entitlement. It’s not something you should take for granted. Those who do, can get themselves into deep financial trouble and cause long term family fights. Wills, lawyers, and deceased parents do not shatter family bonds. Survivors do or don’t depending on which they value more their brothers and sister or dollars and property.
Inheritance Problems with Farmland
If you’re struggling with co-heirs over inherited farm real estate, reach out. I understand the situations you might be in and can provide some relief. I also provide tips on how to sell the family farm. If that is your goal and wishes you can read more here. Feel free to contact me with questions by emailing me at Rachel@DreamDirt.com or call me at 515-954-8063.