The Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition (NGLC) wants to assist farm and ranch families with the often daunting task of transition and estate planning. Over the last several years, the NGLC has hosted seminars with speakers highlighting topics related to transition planning, and now, NGLC has hired an individual who will work directly with families interested in taking estate and transition planning steps.
Through grant funds, Bethany Johnston was recently hired as the NGLC Ranch Transition Task Manager. Johnston, who previously worked with Nebraska Extension, will be based near Burwell, Neb.
Of her new role, Johnston explains, “Ranchers are busy year-round! Too many times, the process to transition feels like a full-time job with compiling paperwork, drafting new legal documents, contemplating how to treat heirs fairly and providing retirement. Ranch life often prevents the time needed to plan for generational transfer. My job is to help keep the ball rolling for farm and ranch families – to facilitate and guide them down the path. We want to help them take this journey one-step at a time and keep them on task.”
For families interested in working with Johnston, she will offer complimentary and confidential assistance. The process begins with a face-to-face meeting with Johnston where she will utilize their input to help the family create a roadmap and identify available transition and estate planning resources. She emphasizes, “The family will be in charge of the process and direction. They are in the driver’s seat.”
Once the family’s roadmap has been developed, Johnston, who is certified as a farm succession planner, will then check-in with the family regularly to ensure that they are proactively completing tasks for effective transition and estate planning. Johnston anticipates this process will include helping direct families to several services and resources that already exist, such as Nebraska Rural Response legal and financial clinics, counseling, and family mediation.
Johnston notes, “How many people will be successful with their New Year’s resolution to become healthier? My position will be similar to a personal trainer who keeps people accountable. I think accountability is the biggest thing that’s been missing from transition programs in the past. Participants get excited at a transition meeting, then go home and become too distracted to finish.”
And she notes that it is important to transition farms and ranches for rural communities. “When we lose families on the land, it impacts businesses and schools in those local communities,” she shares. “If a family farm or ranch doesn’t transfer, the land is often absorbed by a bigger operation or an absentee landowner. Often a family leaves the land, but isn’t replaced by a new family.”
Johnston and her husband are in a transition of their own, moving from Thedford to Burwell and taking over the Angus cowherd that has been operated by Bethany’s parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
Farm and ranch families interested in transition planning are invited to contact Johnston at 308-348-2015 or firstname.lastname@example.org. NGLC will also be hosting several ranch transition workshops in the coming months, which Johnston will be attending. She concludes, “My goal is to try to break the transition planning process down and not overwhelm people. As the saying goes: How do you eat an elephant? Start with one bite at a time.”