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BIG PICTURE: When developing your estate plan, consider more than tax savings; think about how to make your farm durable for the long term — the really long term.

Leave a mark for the future

Your estate plan should do more than transfer assets; it should protect your operation for generations.

By Michael A. Dolan

When you place your brand on your cattle, you leave a permanent mark on your property. That brand ties that calf to you. The branding process usually involves everyone in your operation, and often some neighbors. And of course, there is always a group that stands around and watches … I mean “helps.”

Does your estate plan leave a similar permanent mark? Most typical estate plans are designed to leave basic guidance on how to divide assets, attempt to save taxes and avoid the court probate process. When you plan in this basic manner, you are missing the opportunity to allow your plan to truly leave a mark by enhancing and transferring your legacy and values.

If your basic estate plan misses key tax savings strategies and a portion of your land must be sold to pay the taxes, your legacy is in danger. That danger could be even more significant if it is taxation your grandchildren face when your children die.

When planning, you need to expand your thinking to a broader scope: “What can I do today that will help my children or grandchildren continue my operation in the future?” If your estate plan focuses on the simple transfer of title to the next generation, many opportunities and benefits will be overlooked.

Multigeneration view

Many farm and ranch operations have spanned several generations. If you want your operation to continue for many more generations, now is the time to take steps that will help ensure that your operation will have the best chance to survive. When you look at the current political and tax environment, do you see storm clouds on the horizon?

Common sense would indicate that things will not be easier for the next generation of farmers and ranchers. If you agree, you should strive to see that your estate plan provides all the available benefits and protections to help your legacy survive for future generations. There are benefits and protections that you can establish for your children that would be very hard for them to create for themselves after your death.

Your estate plan should not only focus on transferring property to the next generation, but it also should look for opportunities that will help preserve your operation for multiple generations. By doing so, your estate plan can provide your family protections, opportunities and flexibility to be in the best position to continue your legacy and your values.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your great-grandchildren were in the position to understand the hard work it takes to run your operation, the values it takes to be an important part of the farm and ranch community, the satisfaction of having completed a hard day of work, and the gratitude for all that the Lord has provided to them? I would call that outcome a success.

Dolan, an attorney, helps farm and ranch families achieve comprehensive estate, succession and legacy planning objectives. He is the principal of Dolan & Associates P.C. in Brighton and Westminster, Colo. Learn more on his website,


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