It’s always important when thinking about a succession plan that you ask the ‘what if’ questions. I’m sometimes told that I am being negative when I start talking about what could go wrong but that is what risk analysis is all about. You can never cover all bases but at least having a plan for unwelcome outcomes means you are not panicked into unhelpful or disastrous actions.
There are the obvious ‘what if’ questions like – ‘what if someone dies?” Is there an up to date Will in place. Do we have enough knowledge to be able to continue the business without them? It’s often the case that people think about Dad and what if something happened to him, could they run the farm? However they forget to ask what if something happened to Mum? Do we know the computer passwords? Could we do the cattle passports? I’m trying not to be sexist here but this is a typical situation!
There are also the less obvious ‘What if’ questions. Dad and Mum have promised that they will hand on the total responsibility for the farm to the next generation by a certain date. The date arrives and they are not ready to step back. The ‘What if” question needs to be asked at the outset when the plan was put in place. So when this situation arises the parents know the consequences of not doing what they said they would. Also the younger generation have a plan of what to do. This is so important for the younger generation. They have created another option for themselves and don’t feel trapped and at the mercy of other’s decisions.
There are more difficult ‘What if’ questions to consider. What if you have passed the farm onto your son or daughter and they die. Where does the farm go? If they have children will they have a chance to farm. What if the farm passes to the in law and they marry again and have other children? Ok, careful, this is where madness lies.
Of course there is a limit to ‘what if’ questions – it could drive you mad trying to think of every outcome. Also there is the temptation to try and run the farm from the grave – don’t do that! However looking at your succession plan and asking the sensible ‘what if’ questions ensures the plan is robust and workable for all. And no it is not a negative thing to do. It is a very positive, sensible process.