When confronting rare and quirky medical issues, central Idaho rancher Wiley Smith is reassured that at least his estate plans are in healthy condition.
After being diagnosed with a rare and mutating prostate cancer in 2009, he and his wife, Carolyn, discussed the unthinkable.
“We had to face it,” says Smith, 78, who owns Mount Borah Ranch 30 miles north of Mackay, where he grew up. He and his sons, Leon and Steve, raise Hereford cattle, hay and grain.
“What would become of the ranch if I passed on, or if we both did? How could we distribute our assets fairly among our five kids?”
For advice, the Smiths turned to attorney Stephen Martin of Idaho Falls, who has written estate plans for agricultural clients throughout the West since 1974.
“We discussed our goals,” says Smith, “and he guided us through the process and provided us with the legal documents we needed to do what was best for our situation. It was a worthwhile investment for us.”
The family’s estate plan was especially reassuring in late summer when Smith was diagnosed with a staph infection. The bacteria entered his bloodstream at a bruised toenail and settled in his left knee replacement, requiring intravenous antibiotics every four hours. The infected knee replacement was removed in September and was to be replaced later this fall.
Martin acknowledges that estate planning can be an emotional experience for all people.
“Think of estate planning as a way to express the love you feel for your family members,” he says. “People sometimes say business is business and love is separate, but I do not find that to be the case at all. Passing on assets is an expression of love. However, the love one holds for one’s child is not the only factor. One must also consider financial practicalities as well as the work and commitment of various family members.”
He acknowledges the questions are difficult.
“How do you fairly divide a family farm or ranch among several siblings when only one shows any interest in running it?”
Martin offers a few tips.
• You do not need to decide exactly who gets what before visiting an attorney. An experienced attorney should be able to help you solidify your goals and give you options to obtain those goals. An attorney may have some tools to help you achieve your goals that you might not have been aware of.
• Proper planning can shelter a family’s assets from federal estate taxes and reduce income taxes.
• Some parents say they will let their kids fight it out, but that is a terrible idea. Have a plan in place to avoid conflict.
Martin says every client’s situation and goals are unique.
“Engage in planning if you care about your family,” he says. “Having an estate plan before some crisis or emergency occurs provides peace of mind for you and future generations.”