Generational Transition Program

First Step: Gather Information

published: Tuesday, July 9, 2019

First Step: Gather Information

Many farmers and ranchers do not have a will or a completed estate plan.  The incomplete nature of the legal documents is understandable, as estate and transition planning is “like eating an elephant.”

How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

Joe Hawbaker of Hawbaker Law Office in Omaha, Nebraska has written several articles housed at . “The Estate Planning Questionnaire” is the first step, or first bite of the elephant. 

*These articles are for information purposes only and do not constitute legal advice nor are a substitute for legal advice.*

The full article can be found at .  A summary of the article is below.

The first step to prepare for an estate plan is to gather information.  This information scavenger hunt helps with several purposes.  It helps you “put your house in order” for things that need to happen after you pass.  And, the favorite of many, it saves time and money.  People know what to do and where to find information.  When you meet with legal counsel, less time will be spent in their office gathering your information, and hopefully the gathering act has allowed you to think about what you want to have happen.

A full questionnaire can be found in Hawbaker’s article.  The questionnaire has two sections- your personal information and assets and liabilities.  Don’t forget to list social media or online accounts and passwords.  Now days, so many ranch functions are online and user names and passwords may be essential in day-to-day operations (i.e. digital bookkeeping, documents in the cloud or on your phone, taxes, email, purebred breeds registration…)

Once these sections are filled out, “documents” are next.  “Titling is a central part of estate planning and it is important to be accurate,” states Hawbaker.  Obtain a copy of your real estate deeds.  A current balance sheet is a document that also helps in estate planning.

Other documents to have are: your will (original, not copies), trust, power of attorney for health care, durable power of attorney, living will/health directive, closely held business documents (partnership agreements, by-laws, operating agreement, shareholder agreement, articles of incorporation, buy-sell agreements), recent account statements indicating any beneficiary designation (bank accounts, mutual funds, life insurance, land contacts not yet completed, credit card accounts (with reward point information), frequent flier account information, and tax returns (the last three years).

Hawbaker also outlines how to think about your wishes and wants for your estate.  Sample questions include:

          -At your death, whom do you wish to have your property transferred to?

          -Will you make gifts or lifetime transfers while you are alive?

          -Will there be any restrictions on the ownership?

          -What are your concerns about asset protection (i.e. heirs’ management abilities, financial distress, divorce)?

          -Have you planned for incapacity, or what it you are unable to manage your affairs and properties?

          -Consider retirement for yourself. 

          -Do you wish to make charitable gifts?

          -What are obstacles or concerns about your estate planning?

Remember the questionnaire is asking you to put your life on paper!  If you feel overwhelmed by the pages and pages of requested information, do one page or category each day.  Break the elephant into bite size pieces.

The first step starts with you.  Start today!

*These articles are for information purposes only and do not constitute legal advice nor are a substitute for legal advice.*

The full article can be found at

by Bethany Johnston, NGLC Ranch Transition Task Manager

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