Where to start with succession

11 Aug, 2004 10:00 PM
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THERE is a lot that can be done to avoid the traumas that have savaged other farming families.

But there are no magic potions and there is no secret formula that we've been keeping from you all these years.

There are many ideas and strategies for you to consider, but every farm family is different.

What suits one will not suit another.

If you want to avoid heartache and financial trauma down the track, you simply must start the succession planning process now.

What you don't do at that point of time is make an appointment to see a lawyer or the family accountant.

That's what a lot of farmers with really good intentions do and it's often a costly, unfulfilling mistake that achieves nothing.

It's too early to see a lawyer or accountant at that stage, and you are likely to waste a lot of your time and money making no progress at all.

The very first thing you do is set aside some time for a family meeting - just yourselves, no-one else.

Not when you're tired and not when you've got other things on your mind and not when the farm is busy.

Maybe, if you can, go away for a few days.

If time is critical, an hour or two to begin with should be enough.

At the family meeting, make sure there's no distractions like TVs, radios, alcohol, mobile phones, two-way radios or workmen needing supervision or stock agents needing directions.

There should be no children or outsiders - just yourselves with no distractions.

Each of the 30 issues have been prompted by specific issues that have emerged previously in other farming families, where there has been a breakdown.

In each case a family member has raised the issue as being a source of discontent, ultimately leading, in part or totally, to a major dispute or breakdown.

It doesn't take much sometimes, particularly if a family member feels it's a culmination of factors that has resulted in particular action being necessary.

At the family meeting, it's vital that each family member involved in the farming enterprise is given the opportunity to speak his or her mind without any interruption and without any other pressures, such as personal remarks, sniggering or jokes.

It's frequently not easy, but for there to be any point and to make any genuine progress with succession planning, it's important to be forthright, honest and frank with other family members.

The issues to discuss at the meeting may seem trivial, irrelevant perhaps, and hardly the domain of a lawyer to suggest.

But we have files of quite tragic scenarios, most of which could have been avoided with better and more open communication leading to an agreed succession plan for the farm and family.

*Richard Huston is the principal of Huston Legal, based at Albany and Kojonup. This article is an edited extract from a speech he gave at the Hyfield Jaloran forum at Kojonup earlier this month.

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