Many people have read the sad situation publicised last week of a dairy farming family feud resulting in a payout of £2.7m from the court. It was such a sad event to hear about and my sympathy goes to all family members. Not only has this resulted in a fractured family but probably a ruined business.
It is easy to hear a story like this and think that could never happen to you, however it could! I don’t know the family but I am sure they are just an ordinary family like the rest of us. So what can we do to try to prevent this happening to our family?
We can never cover every eventuality but sticking your head in the sand certainly won’t help. So what can be done to try to prevent such a situation?
Probably one of the most effective actions is to sit down as a family and talk about expectations before a family member comes back to work in the business. Is there an expectation that coming home to work on the farm means that person expects to inherit? If that is not what all family members think then it should be clarified and discussed. This is particularly important if the person coming back to the farm is not paid the going rate again this may lead to the expectation that they will eventually inherit. This discussion should be recorded and even signed so there is no ambiguity about expectations.
Some families have a trial period for family members, to give everyone time to see if the new arrangement works and importantly a plan if it doesn’t. Asking the ‘what if’ questions at this time is important. What if we don’t get on? What if we can’t work together?
Good communication is essential when bringing a family member into the business. Often the older generation have been used to making decisions without consulting anyone else. When a family member enters the business they expect to be included in decisions and discussions that will affect the future of the business and ultimately their future. Holding regular meetings where time is taken out to sit down and discuss the operational matters and the strategic matters of the business is so important.
We can never guarantee that such sad events won’t happen in our family but openly discussing expectations with all family members could be one of the most important business and family discussions you will ever have.