Passing the Land on to Others

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Credit: Gerry Mich

My wife’s grandfather managed the family woodlot for several decades, harvesting deer for food and trees to heat his home and wood to build with.  As he got into his 80’s and 90’s, he spent less and less time in the woods that he loved, and limited his activities to driving the tractor and enjoying the scenery.  As he approached and exceeded 100, he wasn’t able to travel to the woods anymore, but always asked me what things were like and if I had seen any deer.

He passed away recently and will be sorely missed amongst his family and friends.  He was the instigator to all of us taking part in the management of the woodlot.  On many occasions, three generations of our family were out in the woods together felling and processing trees, maintaining the trails, and building habitat for wildlife.  By keeping all of us involved with what is going on in the woodlot, there will be very little changes in the management strategies and cohesiveness of the property.  Unfortunately, this is not the case for many landowners.

For some woodland owners, their love for their woodlot is something they try, but fail to instill in other members of their family.  These landowners tend not to realize that they are the ones causing the rest of their family to show disinterest in the workings of their property.  The reason for this disinterest is really quite simple.  The rest of the family doesn’t feel like they have any ownership in the woodlot.

Family members are invited to participate in activities like deer hunting, and asked to help with tree planting and harvesting.  But more often then not, their input is not looked for when decisions are being made regarding the management of the woodlot.  Many times they are turned off by the phrase “my woods”, when they could be encouraged to be a part of the “family forest”.

So, is the solution as simple as it sounds?  It can be, but implementing that solution can be hard for some landowners to undertake.  It is easy to say that you want the rest of the family to be a part of the decision making process, but it can be hard to live with the decisions the family makes.  Especially after being the sole decision maker for many years.

The process for making this change to family management starts with talking about the woodlot.  I mentioned in a past article how difficult it can be for some landowners to talk with their neighbors, but it can be even more difficult for some to talk about their land with their family.  And I don’t mean talking about where the tree stands should go or who has to mow the trails.  I mean discussing what everyone wants the forest and land to be.

Is it a source for income or a place to relax or somewhere in between?  When someone dies should the land stay in the family, be sold, be divided up among the children, or go to one person?  Many people don’t like to talk about these issues as they tend to cause conflicts, they bring into play different visions of and values associated with a woodlot, and forces us to face mortality.  However, the important part is starting the conversation.

Now, you might think I am referring to estate planning, but I am really talking about succession planning.  Succesion planning is the process for preparing your property and family for a change in ownership and leadership.  You use the legal tools in an estate plan to make sure your succession plan happens the way you want it to.

Ultimately, your goal is to come to some kind of understanding with the rest of your family regarding the future of the woodlot.  For us, there was no question as to what would happen and that made the whole thing a great deal easier to handle.

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