My great-great grandparents homesteaded on the tall-grass prairie. The story goes the grass was so tall, they had to sit in the wagon to see where they were going. Granted, my ancestors were little, short Europeans, but I often wonder what they saw from that wagon perch, and what visions played in their minds.
Did they see the spindly twigs or a mature apple orchard full of fruit? A wooden house replacing the soddy? Could they imagine 250 bushel corn growing in the black earth harvested by machinery bigger than their first home? What did they see from the wooden seat of the jolting wagon? Did they see their great-grandson farming the same soil a hundred year later?
Have you thought about what your ranch will look like in five years? In forty years? I believe most of us dream from our own wagon seat about what the future will hold. We each have a vision for what we want to see happen.
Now I ask you this- Does your estate plan align with your future ranch dream?
Over and over again, I see ranchers work hard for little money, while their land appreciates to great wealth. A son or daughter comes back and works like dad for little money. The old man’s estate plan didn’t protected his dream to pass along the ranch, but lawyers are expensive, and (hey) it is working for now. But the rancher dreamed big from his “wagon seat” with visions of generations fulfilling his legacy. Big dreams, no execution.
The rancher believed his kids would get along and “make it work.” In that old rancher’s mind, he believed his successor would work it out, like he worked it out decades ago with family. How often have you seen an on-ranch heir unable to buy out their siblings because “cows can’t make the land payments” or an outsider can pay more for the ground? After the rancher’s funeral, the coffee-shop-talk states “The old man never wanted it to turn out like this. What a shame.”
Are you that different from this rancher? Turn your thoughts and expectations into something real. Align the vision of your future ranch with your legal documents, and as importantly, start transitioning what you know to your successor.
Ask yourself what is most important to you. Prioritize. Do you want the ranch to stay in the family name? If family interest lacks, should a non-relative successor be chosen? Is it more important that the ranch stay ranching? Is stewardship and caring for the land important to you?
Setting your priorities is helpful, and will speed up the process when deciding what legal documents to draft and how to draft them.
Next, get to work! A vision is intangible until you talk about it, write it down, make it real, and share.
What do you see looking into the future from your wagon seat? Make a plan, and make it happen.