Western Farm Press published a story yesterday reminding readers of the importance of conducting proper estate planning. The publication, geared toward those in the agricultural industry, explained that many farms had been saved that otherwise would have been split up because of savvy planning ahead of time. The story reminded readers of a basic principle that ourNew York estate planning lawyers wholeheartedly endorse. It noted that planning is important regardless of the size of one’s estate so that “if something happens to you today, your assets will go where you want them to go, to the people you want to have them.”
In the context of farms, it is particularly important to consider the tax implications of asset transfers upon death. It was explained that many farms have been lost when one party in the operation dies, leaving others unable to pay the taxes that come due. Estate taxes are hard to pay without selling the very property that one acquires. Farmers are often asset and land rich, but cash poor. That means that those who inherent a farm are often required to sell the land itself to come up with the cash needed to pay the tax bill. Estate tax issues may not be a problem for those in certain income brackets, but there remains constant volatility in the area. For many families their tax liability could change dramatically from year to year depending on what the laws happen to be at the time that one passes on.
Regardless of estate tax concerns, however, there are many basic estate and inheritance planning issues that are important for farmers to consider. The story suggests that it is helpful to think of one’s estate as in either accumulation mode, conservation mode, or transfer mode. The younger generations are often still acquiring assets, while older community members are likely to want to preserve what they have or pass it along. Estate planning helps most clearly with preservation and transfer.
However, it is often more difficult for those goals to be met that some realize. One advocate in the agricultural community explained that “many successful farm families often do a poor job of estate planning.” In particular, many of the families fail to ensure that they have proper documents in place and ready to go when they might need them, such as a Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy. Others fail to keep a plan updated. A sophisticated effort to save on estate taxes one year may be futile if not altered to account for changes in the law down the road.
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