Succession Planning

It truly is amazing that forest landowners would choose to plant and culture a crop that will likely outlive them.  They are planting for future generations.  They are investing their resources and time in something that their grandchildren or designated heirs will find useful and profitable.  It must be that they have an affection for their land, and they think their land is an important part of their life.  Yet, there is one thing that most forest landowners never do that would ensure the ultimate success of their efforts.

Forest landowners prepare and follow management plans.  They battle invasive species to help their favored trees win out.  They embark ambitiously on altering the ecology of their land, converting former pastureland or cropland to forest - not an easy thing to do.  They prune and thin, to improve their trees and the land's resources.  They build brushpiles for wildlife, yet try various repellents to keep deer away from their seedlings.  They do all of this and more so that they can marvel at these trees that will dwarf them, so that they can feel the satisfaction of knowing they have improved acres of land.  It is a feeling that they would like to share with their children and grandchildren, if their kids had the time.

At the same time, they know that nature will be persistent.  Without continuous management, the invasives will come back, the vines will overtop the trees, undesirable tree species will appear and crowd out their favorites, insect pests or tree diseases will go unchecked.  Unless they can convince someone else to resume this rewarding effort after they cannot, their resources and time invested will be reversed.  Yet, all it may take is a conversation - a discussion over dinner the next time the kids visit.

The Conversation

Forest landowners are determined enough to do all of the above difficult things, but for the most part they haven't found a way to broach the subject of succession with their kids.  Many times, if they did have this conversation, they would be surprised to learn of their kids' fascination with their land.

It is a difficult and complex thing to do - to have this conversation about what happens when you are gone.  It is emotional and not a subject that is talked about lightly.  At the same time, it is hard for your kids to imagine what their lives will be like in the future - whether they will have the resources or the time to take over this responsibility.

This kind of discussion with your family will likely raise more questions than it will answer - at least the first conversation.  So, it is best to prepare before beginning.  The associated pages under this "Succession" topic are intended to help you prepare by giving you a little background on various options, like trusts and easements and partnerships and when you may want some professional help.

Resources To Help You

Missouri Extension Service produces an excellent newsletter for that state's forest landowners, entitled "Green Horizons".  Recently, they published a fine series of articles about succession planning called "Preserving the Family Forest" and written by David Watson, a financial advisor near St. Louis.  The Illinois Forestry Association has obtained permission to post those articles here under "Preserving the Family Forest".

The USDA Forest Service has this Webpage devoted to estate planning for forest landowners.  It has sections on wills, trusts, LLCs and partnerships, gifting, and conservation easements.  It links to a pair of Wisconsin webcasts on this subject.  And it points you to some helpful publications.

In addition, the page entitled "Ties to the Land" outlines a program developed by Oregon State University to help forest ladowners prepare for a family conversation about ownership succession.  The IFA has purchased the materials for this program and stands ready to conduct the four-hour program for small groups of willing landowners.  Read more about it on that page.

In the three-article series "Ownership Tools", Vermont Extension Professor Thom McEvoy discusses family partnerships, limited liability companies, and conservation easements and their advantages for forest landowners.

Lastly, the USDA Forest Service has published a 184 page booklet entitled "Estate Planning for Forest Landowners: What Will Become of Your Timberland?".  You can download it HERE ( 2.3 MB pdf ).

With a little preparation you could be ready to talk succession to your kids so that your oaks and walnuts don't succeed to box elder and hackberry.



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