Al Montna's thoughts on estate planning
The largest exchange of wealth in world history is occurring as the aging make final decisions about their legacy. But, with the possible return of the death tax and the changing future of farming in California, which road should be taken? Ag Alert® delves more deeply into this important and timely topic:
- Part 1: Legacy Lost
- Part 2: Redefining tradition
- Part 3: Branching Out
- Part 4: A living legacy
Farmers and ranchers can avoid contentiousness in settling an estate by bringing everyone to the table well in advance of changes and discussing a plan that looks like it will work to benefit all family members, this generation and next, said Sutter County rice farmer Al Montna.
"If everyone has input and buys in, then you have a plan that works," he said. "What happens with farm families, if there's no planning, everybody wants to sell the land and get the money. You've got to have a plan where people buy in for the long term."
That's one reason Montna developed a conservation easement on his Dingville property.
"That 1,200 acres will be in agriculture forever and they're going to have to work to keep it as both viable habitat and farm ground."
Montna said the problem with estate planning is that it's time consuming and expensive--and most farmers don't want to spend the money. But, he said, not doing the work that estate and succession plans require leaves heirs in a difficult position when it comes time to hand down the farm. It also puts irreplaceable agricultural land, as well as natural habitat, at risk of being lost forever.
"We're going to have to work at this to maintain the requirements of the easement and keep the farming profitable," Montna said of his easement. "Ducks Unlimited will be out doing audits, making sure we meet requirements and providing technical assistance.
"We'll have to follow certain guidelines, none of them onerous, but they will require attention. They'll want to see what we've planted and they won't want to see a bunch of paved roads or concrete ditches. The ranch is in great shape, so that's fine with us. We've spent the last 40 years getting it to where it is today. It's a wildlife mecca."
Montna pointed out that California farmers and ranchers must be committed not just to developing their own estate plan, but also to protecting family farming in general.
"Farm Bureau is very active in this area, which is very important for farmers and for the people of this state," he said.
"There's a lot of pressure on the land from a lot of different areas and there's an increasing amount of regulation. These things work against families being able to hand down the family farm and protect the environment.
"I have six grandchildren and they'll get every opportunity to learn about farming from me, if their parents let me. Hopefully, their parents will teach them, too, but I would love to teach my grandchildren. I was in the fields when I was 7 or so, driving a tractor and everything else. They couldn't keep me out of the fields.
"My grandchildren will be included as much as possible as we go forward with our strategic planning and they'll be entitled to give as much input as they want into our plans for the future direction of the company."