Spare your family trauma and expense

28 Jul, 2004 10:00 PM
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Farmers urged to plan for succession

FARMING families are being urged to seriously look at implementing succession planning strategies to avoid the horror and hardship that is increasingly associated with passing on the farm, according to lawyer Richard Huston.

Mr Huston, the principal of Huston Legal, in an address to the Hyfield Jaloran Merino Forum in Kojonup earlier this month, said families should consider succession planning.

"If you do, and you do it properly, you can spare your family the trauma and expense that has torn so many farming families apart in recent times," Mr Huston said.

"It's not easy and it takes time, but you can take control of the situation."

Mr Huston said he believed there were a number of reasons why succession planning has become more important now than it was for previous generations.

Theses included falling commodity prices, farm land prices - compared to city and coastal properties, increases and introduction of new taxes, denial of capital gains tax exemptions on the sale of gift of the family and changes to income tax laws.

He said other factors included changing expectations of non-farming children, the virtual denial of the aged pension and other aged benefits, increased life expectancies and a desire to retire earlier and do more in retirement.

There was also an increased dependancy by children to pay education fees like HECS debts and TAFE fees.

"It just seems a lot harder for farming families these days in achieving what was once much easier," Mr Huston said.

Another issue is a loss of identity for a lot of elderly male farmers who have spent most of their life on the farm, according to University of New England researcher Roslyn Foskey.

Ms Foskey, who has comprehensively researched farm succession issues, said the identity issue was more acute for farmers who had not diversified their activities and interests as they got older.

She said there was a loss and grief process that farmers could encounter as part of the transitition process to retirement.

"An old dairy farmer told me he had a tremendous sense of loss and grief and he reckoned it probably lasted around six years," Ms Foskey said.

"He missed the place, he missed the animals and he rebuilt an identity and was loving retirement.

"But he and a lot of people I interviewed as part of a farming and retirement research project described a grieving process."

She said the grieving process was not as long or severe for farmers that retained an interest in agriculture, but moved away from physcial work to becoming active in groups like producer organisations.

Ms Foskey said another factor was the increasing number of farmers living in isolation, only hiring people during seeding and harvest, due to economic and technological change.

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