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NC State Extension

Farm Transition and Legacy Planning

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Protecting Your Farm’s Legacy

Transitions can be vulnerable time for farms. Failing to plan for transitions can open your farm up to unexpected risks, like family conflict, forced partition sales, and sales due to Medicaid Estate Recovery. As a landowner or a member of a farm family, it is to your advantage to develop a plan that addresses Farm Transition and Legacy Planning.

If you’re interested in starting the farm succession planning process, we urge you to sign up for a no-cost farm succession consultation, which is available to all North Carolina farmers and landowners through the NC FarmLink program. Every family’s situation is different, so these consultations allow you talk through your situation with a Certified Farm Succession Coordinator. We can help you get started with the process of succession planning and also help you identify tools and resources that may be beneficial. Although staff cannot give legal advice, we can advise farmers on the legacy planning process, so farmers feel more comfortable and better prepared before speaking to a lawyer. To sign up for a Farm Succession Consultation, please use this form: Farm Succession Consultation Sign Up Form

Farm Succession Resources

The following resources can help provide you with information and assistance on transition and legacy planning.

NC FarmLaw

NC FarmLaw is an excellent resource on all aspects of farm succession planning. It contains fact sheets on estate planning, lease templates, and recorded presentations on various succession topics. It also contains information on other agricultural law topics, like zoning and planning issues, agribusiness law, and public land management.

NC Ag Mediation Program

Agricultural mediation programs have stepped up their focus and training on providing mediation services to farm succession situations around the country in response to expanded funding under the 2018 Farm Bill. In North Carolina, agricultural mediation is provided through Western Carolina University. Mediators act as neutral parties in all disputes. They do not act as advocates for either party. Instead, they help the parties discuss the issues and resolve the dispute.

NC Agromedicine Institute

The NC Agromedicine Institute is a collaboration between East Carolina University, North Carolina State University, and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. The NC Agromedicine Institute can help cover the costs for counseling or therapy for farmers who are dealing with farm stress or grief due to succession situations.

Conservation Easements

Conservation Easements have become a major farm succession planning tool in North Carolina. By selling developmental rights to a land trust, landowners are able to retain ownership of the property, protect the farm from development for perpetuity, and often receive a lump sum payment for the purchase of the developmental rights. 

If you’re interested in conservation easements, a good place to start is by contacting your local Soil & Water Conservation District. Depending on your location regional land trusts may also provide resources and be able to partner on farmland conservation. In North Carolina, we are fortunate to have a statewide progam, the NC Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation (ADFP) Trust Fund that helps to fund conservation easements. ADFP has an online intake form as well as regional staff across the state that can respond to landowner inquiries’. 

Other Resources

Legacy Letters: A great way to kick off a farm transition process is for the landowner(s) to create a legacy letter. This process allows the landowner(s) to consider important aspects of their experience owning, managing, and living on a farm and record that in writing. This information can be helpful to decide what the landowner(s) want  and can communicate what they want most for their farmland even when they are gone.

So You Inherited a Farm Workbook: This workbook – funded by the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission – presents topics and templates concerning the transfer and management of farm interests. Topics include wills, trusts, gifting, titling of property, option agreements, LLC operating agreements, a tenancy-in-common model agreement, and narratives on farm tenancy, farm leases, conservation agreements, and property taxes.

Conserving Working Lands Handbook: This handbook is an excellent planning tool for farm and forest owners in North Carolina. It guides landowners through the process of creating goals and priorities for succession planning. 

NC FarmLink Videos and Recordings: NC FarmLink has a variety of videos on topics related to land access and succession planning on the NC FarmLink YouTube page. One presentation that may be of particular interest to beginning farmers is Begin with The End in Mind, which is a short presentation on retirement planning geared toward beginning farmers.