Preparing for the unexpected

If you were severely injured or died today, would your spouse or family know what to do with the farm? Who would milk the cows tonight, tomorrow or next week? Who would plant the crops or harvest hay? Would your family be able to make sound decisions regarding the farm’s future in a time of severe stress or grieving? Unfortunately, this situation happens far too often for many families; the main farm manager or owner suddenly is injured or passes away, and the family is left to pick up the pieces.

Coping with a severe injury or death is a stressful time for any family, and having to make sound decisions can be a series of very difficult tasks. Take this burden off your family by preparing a plan of action for your farm. Make a list of all daily chores, and plan who can take over for you in a time of crisis.

Make a plan

First, compile a list of who will do what if you cannot be there. Determine which neighbors or friends are willing to milk cows for a certain amount of time, who can plant and harvest crops, and who will care for miscellaneous farm duties. An in-place plan will guarantee a smooth transition for your replacements. An emergency plan will also reduce or eliminate rushed decisions by your family to sell the cows or the farm.

Remember, your family will need to conduct e-business as well. If your family members do not participate in daily farm business, it will be very difficult for them to know where to access files and how to use them. Compile a list of computer passwords, banking passwords and membership codes, and keep them in a safe place. Make sure your family knows how to access the records, or has the capability to contact a local field representative or technical service person to get assistance.

Also, keep a printed backup of farm management records. Backup management records will be helpful in case computer passwords or electronic records cannot be accessed immediately.

Once you have an emergency plan in place, review it with your family once a year to make sure they are OK with the process. As children get older, they may lose or gain interest in the farm, and the plan may need to be revised.

In addition, keep your will and life insurance up to date. Be sure your life insurance covers all aspects of accidental death. Farms are often a high-value asset, and you do not want family members bickering over who will get what after you are gone. Disability insurance is also good to look into. If you are temporarily injured, disability insurance can help pay bills and pay for hired help while you recover.

Never think you are too young to have a will or life insurance. Farming is a very dangerous occupation, and in an instant, you could be gone.

Often people do not want to write a will or buy life insurance because it is a difficult subject to deal with. Think of making an emergency plan as an insurance policy for your family and your farm. Farms take many years to build and develop. Don’t let it all fall apart in a matter of days just because you were not prepared for the unexpected.

Opatik is the Kewaunee County Extension agriculture agent.

This article published in the August, 2010 edition of WISCONSIN AGRICULTURIST.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.