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Farm succession planning: how to plan for success

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By Theresa Dowling

Those in the Australian agribusiness sector know that the rewards of life in primary production are many and varied. A family farming business can deliver exceptional gains including financial growth and success, autonomy, an enviable lifestyle, and, in some cases, the satisfaction of creating a legacy that can be passed on through generations of your family.

Successful producers also understand the value of risk management. Just like insurance, a carefully considered and prepared succession plan is a critical tool in ensuring the transfer of the family farming business to the next generation.

Failure to plan properly can leave farming businesses financially impaired and family relationships torn apart by conflict.

While succession planning be complex, here are a few tips for a succession plan that works.

Start now

There is no ‘right time’ to begin farm succession planning. While major life events are often the trigger for a family to begin succession planning, the best time to start is now.

A good succession plan can be adapted to changing circumstances, but a poorly thought out or non-existent plan can create unintended consequences or even result in costly litigation. This can have devastating financial and emotional consequences for the people you leave behind and could result in the failure of the farming business.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Involve the entire team – ideally, this includes off-farm family members. Don’t assume you already know what your family members want or need. Arrange a dedicated meeting of all stakeholders in a neutral place, if possible.

You may also consider bringing in a facilitator to help with discussions and ensure everyone feels included. A legal team such as DDCS Lawyers can assist you with this process.

Ensure you have the right advisors

Specialisation is very important when it comes to estate planning. Don’t rely on your conveyancing solicitor to assist you with your business succession plan.

Although there are many lawyers who offer will drafting services, your best bet is to proceed with a lawyer or law firm who focuses on and specialises in succession planning. They will work together with your accountant and financial planner to ensure that no loose ends are left untied.

Look for lawyers and firms who have been recognised for their quality work in a peer-review guide such as Doyle’s Guide, who have accredited specialisations, or who hold further educational qualifications such as a Master’s degree in Wills and Estates.

DDCS Lawyers work together with other professional advisors to help create an effective business succession plan that can assist to mitigate any potential worry and conflict that often accompanies change. Call our expert team on (02) 6212 7600.

Theresa Dowling is a succession lawyer with over a decade’s experience practicing in the ACT and NSW. Theresa lives on her family’s wool-growing property near Gunning, NSW. She is dedicated to helping farming families avoid conflict, manage risk, and build sustainable farming businesses that span multiple generations.