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Stop breaking your parents’ hearts: Deal with your entitlement issues

Elaine Froese for Progressive Dairy Published on 02 June 2021
Entitlement

As this Great Pause of 2021 continues, many of you are caught in the messy middle of family dynamics. Let’s jump in and start dealing with the issue of entitlement on your farm team.

I use the phrase “deal with entitlement.” It’s a bull in the middle of your farm family transition plan that many people avoid talking about. That stops today.

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Help for dealing with greed and entitlement is needed for the founders, the successors and your widowed mom who is being bullied by strong voices who are not happy with how farm assets may be transferred or sold.

Entitlement is defined as “I deserve this special treatment.” Greed is defined as “wealth desire in excess of needs.” The sense of entitlement may come from a farming heir who has put in a lot of years and hours on the farm with the promise of being compensated when parents leave, die or let go of management. Greed rears its ugly head when a non-farm heir kidnaps Grandma, the widow, forgets her father’s gift of property worth $1 million and starts feeding Grandma new options for changing her will that used to forgive the farm debt upon her death. I am not making this up; this is a true current scenario I have permission to share.

“Money is personal,” says financial psychologist Dr. Moira Somers. It affects relationships, comes with feelings of high emotion, fuels our hopes and dreams, and gives us a sense of well-being. It also plays with our ego and self-esteem. “What does money mean to you?” is a great conversation starter to get a handle on why you are fighting about inheritance expectations.

Farms in 2021 are perceived to be the golden goose, giving great net worth to the successor. The problem is: Increasing land values do not mean there is more cash in the bank. The land is not intended to be sold for decades or never, as the farming generation needs land to service debt and grow.

Entitlement is fueled when there is regret from generation two for leaving the farm, and they now have changed their mind on what they left behind. They seem to think Mom should hand over wealth now to make things “fairer.” Does this resentful heir also want to help pay off the $5 million his farming brothers owe on the new barn? (another true story).

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Founders fear the next generation will flip the valuable land and cash out. Lawyers can mitigate this with “poison pill” strategies (lawyer Mona Brown’s term) to prevent one heir having financial advantage. There is also fear around divorce and the spouse going after farmland, which too can be managed with marriage contracts.

Fighting over land, houses and machinery transfers has to recognize that agriculture has a history of being patriarchal in nature. The girls get cash and are expected to marry well, and the boys get land. Where is that written in 2021? Mix in disrespect for the ag-trained women who run farms and the secret promises made to favoured adult children, and you have a recipe for great conflict. Greed and scarcity thinking are like adding diesel to the fire. You really need to challenge the money scripts of family members that are not workable.

Here’s some helpful questions to consider grabbing the bull by the horns.

  • What do you need to be successful? This addresses my thesis on fairness; it is helping everyone be successful. The answers will be different for each couple.

  • What does money mean to you? Do you feel a large gift of money will mean you are valued as a member of this family? What amount of inheritance are you hoping for?

  • What is your true desire for the future success of this farm? How do you want to relate to the farm and your childhood home when we are finished transferring management and ownership to your sibling?

  • What farm finances would you like to know about? How much financial transparency do you need? Do you realize your sibling has delayed gratification for 11 years, waiting for ownership in this farm business?

  • What is the story you are telling yourself about how you will feel when we say “No” to your unrealistic expectation?

  • Do you realize I am not dead yet? (This was the key learning for an 88-year-old widow who thanked me profusely for reiterating this point in a heated family meeting. She needed a nice place to live and wanted a new car.)

  • What is enough? For some people, just a little more than the rest. For others, whatever you give is never enough. It is what it is. Use my phrase that pays: “That was then, and this is now. My financial status requires that I protect my wealth for decades to come, and I cannot liquidate assets I may need when my health changes. Dad is gone, and I need to live.”

Do-it-yourself thinking may work for building your garage – but not dealing with tense anger around entitlement.

Don’t keep breaking Mom’s heart. She truly wants family harmony and the ability to see all of her grandchildren. Dad wants to see peace in the family, too.

Seek help. Recognize that conflict avoidance is not going to create solutions. Express your emotions respectfully in a facilitated virtual farm family meeting.

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Use a lawyer now to update your will, make an enduring power of attorney and ask about marriage contracts for married successors and common in-law partnerships. John Goudy, a CAFA member and farmer who practices law, says it is wise to have a lawyer in the proactive stage, not just when things start down the litigation path.

Do not accept bad behaviour or bullying. Have a united front as parents.

Guard your heart. Don’t break Mom’s or Dad’s. end mark

Getty Images.

Elaine Froese wants all farm families to be rich in relationship. Visit Elaine Froese.

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