United States: Succession Planning—Bet The Farm On It

Last Updated: May 24 2017
Article by E. Bradley Evans and Matthew W. Thompson

Despite recent trends toward consolidation in the agricultural industry, farming generally remains a family affair.  According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 97 percent of all farms in the United States are family owned.

However, our increasingly mobile society has interrupted the familiar narrative of family members working side-by-side on the farm.  Frequently, certain family members choose to follow alternative career paths while other family members choose to remain engaged with the family business.  Commodity volatility, a tighter lending environment, increased regulation, and an aging baby boomer population also present challenges to family farming operations in planning for the future.  As a result, developing a comprehensive succession plan is critical in today's environment to protect the long-term viability of the family farm and, frequently, family unity.  Here are some reasons why:

Every Business Needs a Leader—the Family Farm is No Exception.

After the traditional leader(s) of the family farm are gone, who will be in charge?  This is a decision that should not be left to chance.  All family members do not necessarily possess equal interests or capabilities.  Placing an unprepared, unwilling, or unable family member in a leadership role, intentionally or by default, can doom any business. 

Corporate and estate planning documents can provide for leadership succession to ensure the farm operation is managed by the most willing and able successor.  Sometimes, there are no family members willing to (or capable of) taking on this role.  In such cases, a leader from outside the family can be identified, while preserving ownership and income protection for family members not actively involved in the business.  A candid assessment of these issues can head off family strife and business turmoil following a leader's death.

Continuity is Critical to Preserving Relationships for Continued Success.

Many family farms rely on key employees for their success.  If those employees have doubts about the future, they may look for different, more stable employment opportunities.  This loss in human capital can be costly and sometimes irreplaceable. 

The same is true with regard to outside business relationships—suppliers, bankers, and customers want to know whom they are dealing with and that a change in ownership or management will not affect them in a negative way.  By having a well-defined plan that is understood by all affected parties, important employee and professional relationships can be preserved even as transition occurs. 

Ownership of the Land is Critical to Continued Operations.

Frequently, the land is the most valuable asset of a family farming operation.  Owners of farm land should carefully consider how it will be owned in the future—whether jointly by individuals, by a corporate entity, or divided among the members of the next generation. 

Many farm families have found themselves engaged in bitter intra-family lawsuits as a result of joint ownership of land that is used (or perceived to be used) unequally by the owners.  These sorts of fights can be costly and cause the farm land to be broken up, jeopardizing continued operations and the overall value of the land.  On the other hand, careful design of future land ownership can ensure continuity and provide an income stream to family members who are not participating actively in the farming operation. 

The Government is Happy to be the Biggest Beneficiary of Your Estate, and It Wants Its Share on Time.

When discussing long term plans, most farmers indicate that they want to keep their farm in their family for as long as the family wants to operate it.  Even if the family later decides to sell or continue operations in a different way, having the flexibility to control the timeline and terms of that sale or transition is important for purposes of maximizing value and meeting other family goals. 

In some cases, however, these plans can be undermined by federal estate taxes due upon the farm's owner's death.  The federal estate tax applies to the value of all assets over a certain threshold and is assessed at a 40% rate.  Any tax due generally must be paid within nine months after the death of the owner.  If there is not sufficient cash available to pay the tax, it may be necessary to dispose of property at a "fire sale" or take on debt to satisfy the obligation to the Internal Revenue Service.  Fortunately, through advance planning, the estate tax burden often can be reduced significantly or altogether eliminated—leaving the farm owner's intended beneficiaries in position to make decisions about continued operations on their own terms and without the government as a cash-hungry partner.  

It's a Dangerous World Out There—Protect What You Can!

Family farms often carry large operating lines of credit with land or equipment pledged as collateral.  Because of the very nature of farming, family farms also often find themselves victims of lawsuits alleging personal injuries, workplace injuries, or environmental violations.  Are the assets of the family farm owned in the proper corporate structure to minimize individual liability for claims against the business?  Is proper liability insurance in place?  Evaluating these questions will help minimize the possible liability of the current generation as well as the burden on the members of the next generation when they assume ownership of the farm and business.

For farm families, the farm itself often is their greatest asset of value and always is a source of pride and identity.  Without proper planning, however, the farm and its operations can be jeopardized when management or ownership changes.  A comprehensive succession plan focused on leadership, ownership structure, and continuity will provide the best chance for success into the future.  You can bet the farm on it. 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.