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Workshop a way to help secure farm's future

December 27, 2006|by JEFF SEMLER

On more than one occasion, you have read in this very spot my musings about keeping the farm alive and well here in our little corner of the world.

Today, I want to address the farm families and how they address the transitioning of the farm.

We sometimes hear that the next generation is not interested or they cannot afford to take over the operation. If the latter is the case, I hope you are not the cause, as Pogo once stated, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Failure of transitioning the farm to the next generation usually is a case of a failure to plan.

The buzz word used today is estate planning.

Call it what you wish, what has to be done is planning that must include the needs and benefits of at least two generations.

In doing research for this column, I found a great online survey tool that each generation should fill out separately and then come together and share their respective results.

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It can be found at www.familybusinessonline.org/resources/frm_chklist_farm.aspx

I will share but a few of the questions found in the survey. As you read these questions, remember they are to be used as a starting point and not as ammunition in the blame game.

Here's some of the questions:

· Is there a written ownership and management plan for the farm?

· Is there an ownership plan that is fair to those family members working on the farm?

· Is the next generation willing to make significant sacrifices to farm?

· Does the plan for the future preserve a viable farm or farm structure?

· Can the family discuss farm issues in a business sense, without becoming entrenched in family roles and patterns?

· Will the senior generation be willing to relinquish control?

· Could the senior generation afford, financially, to retire?

Estate planning is both a right and a responsibility - a right granted by state and federal laws, and a responsibility imposed by society, family relationships and ownership of property.

For those who do not exercise the right and fulfill the responsibility, the state has developed an estate plan for you. The state plan may or may not be acceptable in fulfilling your family's objectives.

If not, then positive action is needed to develop a plan that does.

Have you done what you need to do about estate planning? Where is your plan today?

Estate tax laws have been changing, land values have been escalating and family needs may have been altered, so thinking through the best options for the next three years and beyond has become even more crucial for many farmers.

So where to start, you say?

Well, to get you going on this planning, Maryland Cooperative Extension and the Northeast Center for Risk Management Education are co-sponsoring a farm estate planning workshop on Jan. 4, 2007.

The workshop begins at 9:30 a.m. and will last until 3 p.m. and will be held at the Washington County Extension office.

The workshop will focus on farm estate planning basics.

Some of the topics to be discussed are:

· Estate planning objectives

· Developing and implementing a plan

· Federal and state estate and gift taxes

· Wills

· Property ownership

· Use of trusts

· Special provisions for farms and small businesses

The workshop is targeted to farmers and owners of farm and other rural land.

In addition, individuals involved in farm estate planning, other businesses serving farmers, and state and local governments may also find these workshops helpful. The public is also welcome.

Because of USDA support, the workshops have no registration fee. However, registration is necessary to plan food and handouts.

Lunch is provided.

To register, call 301-791-1304 anytime and leave a message. Or send an e-mail to jsemler@umd.edu

Today is the day after Christmas and I trust as you look forward to the New Year, you will consider estate planning and the future of your family's involvement in agriculture.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at jsemler@umd.edu

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