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The greatest estate gift of all

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By Ron Rabou

This past week, I’ve had the privilege to work in Des Moines, Iowa with farmers from across the Midwest at our latest Dedicated Internal Resource for Training and Transition (DIRTT) conference. 

The program was designed by Rena Striegel, an agriculture business consultant, who has amassed an incredible amount of experience and wisdom working with farms and farm families of all sizes. 

The conference was a two and a half day, highly-intensive program designed specifically for ag production enterprises and focusing primarily on the creation and maintenance of in-depth business systems along with transitioning and succession processes for both short and long-term legacy planning. 

I am blessed to be part of a professional team of instructors ranging from high-level farm business owners, consultants, attorneys, certified public accountants, financial advisors and life coaches.  

American farm families struggle with the process and timing of transitioning to the next generation, and statistically, most have no plan in place at all. Many have never communicated about their expectations.

Based on my own personal story and my experience working with others, not communicating is still communicating – it just won’t produce the results one would want. Not doing anything is still doing something, but this something typically tears generations of families apart.  

Estate planning and family dissention isn’t isolated to agriculture. My bet is each of us know several people whose family relationships were damaged or destroyed because of unspoken expectations, unintended consequences or lack of communication. 

Sometimes, even the best laid plans can go awry, and the results can be devastating for both families and businesses.

When a situation turns for the worse, there are a myriad of professionals who can help make the best of it. Unfortunately, many times, there is not much that can be done to salvage the relationships lost when legal battles or disagreements ensue, and upon the death of a family member, there is no going back to change things.

Part of my job with the DIRTT project is to dive deep into the subject of communication. Each one of us can have a different interpretation of the same thing. Explicit communication, as hard as it may be, is essential to creating a general process and plan to produce positive results for everyone involved. 

In addition, perhaps my biggest role is sharing my own experience with family and business transition, which ultimately resulted in a collapse of trust, communication and integrity and the causes of and responses to these behaviors.

Too often, the solutions we use help solve issues after the fact but do not address the root cause to help prevent those issues. 

What I mean is, while proper and thoughtful planning and communication are essential when creating a business transition or family estate plan, we must also pay very close attention to human nature. All the careful planning and documents in the world cannot solve the fallacies of the human heart.  

While we are busy laying out our estate plans, the most important thing we can do for our family is to teach them love. In a world running high on egos, monetary gain and status, it’s easy to lose our way. 

It’s very easy to lose perspective on things that are most important. We fight over “stuff” – property, money and businesses – and the ending result is often generations of bad blood and strained relationships.  

What is love, and why is it important to serve as an example so we can teach it to others? 

First Corinthians tells us, “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance.”  

It continues, “If I had the gift of prophesy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it, but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”

Simply put, this is why. When we understand love and possess it in our hearts, there’s no room for bickering, fighting and hating. 

If we teach our children to love and provide them with genuine character free of arrogance and pride, and teach them to live independently, without the chains of family names, entitlement, inflated egos and the never-ending carousel of monetary gain, we have given them perhaps the biggest gifts of all – true fulfillment and humility. No estate plan can offer that.

A humble person who truly loves and understands how to find true fulfillment is arguably the happiest of all. Everything we do, in every way, teaches others about us. 

What are they learning? Every day, we have an opportunity to live it and show it. Our words and actions are a direct reflection of what’s in our hearts. What’s in yours?

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