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NC State Extension

Farm Transition & Legacy Planning

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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.

To begin, consider the following questions to ask yourself, and maybe share with a spouse or sibling:

Am I ready to retire?

How much control am I ready to give up?

Have I chosen one or more successors to continue the farm?

Do I support my successor’s vision for the farm?

Have I discussed my plans with my legal and financial professionals?

We urge you to consider exploring the existing NCSU resources on this topic.

Conserving Working Lands: A Land Legacy Workbook with Tools and Resources to Guide Your Conservation Planning Journey is an excellent resource that was developed by the NCSU College of Natural Resources Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources. It describes conservation options (Short term, Long term, or Perpetual) and offers worksheets and family guides for having discussions on farm family land legacy.

Your local N.C. Cooperative Extension Center can connect you with the local resources to pursue many of the options shared in the document above. In many counties you can also contact the local Soil & Water Conservation District. Depending on your location regional land trusts may also provide resources and be able to partner on farmland conservation. We are fortunate to have a statewide progame, the NC Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation (ADFP) Trust Fund that helps to fund conservation easements, county farmland plans, and farm viability projects. ADFP has an online intake form as well as regional staff across the state that can respond to landowner inquiries’. 

Farm succesion and transition can also affect long term healthcare access. Be sure to check out the Farmland Access Legal Toolkit resource on this topic.

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.

An excellent resource on Farm Succession and Transfer is provided by NCSU Agricultural & Environmental Law Extension Assistant Professor Andrew Branan. It includes information on the following specific topics.

.Wills, Trusts, Gifts                    Partnerships, Corporations, LLCs

Option Agreements for Land, Tenants in Common, Leases

Present Use Value, Liability Laws, Conservation Agreements and Easements

New from Branan in 2022, is the So You Inherited a Farm, a publication which addresses topics and provides templates concerning transfer and management of interests in farm and forest land.

Many farm families are concerned about possible estate taxes, but currently only affects estates with assets over $11.58 million or a combined exemption limit for married couples of $23.16 million. If farm assets including farmland, equipment, equity, retirement funds total more than the exemption limit, your heirs may be required to file a federal estate tax return and pay a 40% tax on the amount over the limit. This short and to the point Farm Bureau Financial Services reference shares the need to know information. Be sure to consult your personal and farm financial and legal professionals for specific information relevant to your specific situation.

New innovative options for long lasting farm stewardship are emerging as more and more farm and land owners have no heirs and / or no family members interested in managing the family farmland asset.

One of those organizations is Agrarian Trust, whose mission is to provide land access for next generation farmers. It does this by creating locally governed Agrarian Commons to hold land in trust for community food production. Visit their Agrarian Commons page to learn about their current projects across the US that can involve a land gift, crowdfunding efforts, and / or farmland sale at less than market value.

Another effort in the Southern Region is the Working Farms Fund let by the Conservation Fund. Generally speaking, this involves follows the buy, protect, sell process, where land is purchased, placed under a conservation easement, and then resold to a new farmer. Landowners and retiring farmers can also consider conservation easements which involve selling the development rights while preserving the right to farm. Federal tax incentives can offer significant tax relief as indicated by this Land Trust Alliance weblink and associated publication

If you do not own land but want to support new and beginning farmers pursue their farm enterprises here are some options to consider:

  1. Purchase a farm and lease it to new farmers
  2. Enable regional land conservancies to purchase farmland
  3. Crowdfund new and diversifying farmers in North Carolina
  4. Invest in sustainable agriculture minded financial management entities (Agrarian TrustIroquois Valley, Mad Agriculture Perennial Fund, and Steward) and stipulate that your funds be used to support farming ventures in North Carolina.
  5. Help to create a North Carolina Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) focused on enhancing new and transitioning farmers similar to the one operated by California Farmlink.