Retirement has this nasty habit of sneaking up on a person. I, for one, have had the privilege of meeting many great farmers who have found themselves celebrating their 70th birthday only to realize they have no concrete retirement plans. One of these fantastic gentlemen that I’ve worked with over the years was Len Brown. Len actually contacted me before he’d manage to hit 70. He was 64 at the time and told me on our very first call that he wanted to retire by 65 – just like the city guys. Len was a joy to work with. He was clever and had great instincts for investment, he had high expectations and was stubborn about getting the results he knew he wanted. His sense of humour, easy going nature, and drive to get the retirement he wanted we’re both very beneficial in our process. But first, let me tell you a bit more about him and his situation.
Len’s major setback was a habit of over thinking things. He knew what he wanted, but he couldn’t decide the best way to get it. At 63, he started asking his neighbours about how their retirement went, but their responses often made the dream of retirement feel like a maze. Walls seemed to pop up everywhere and surround him with questions and struggles he didn’t know how to solve. Horror stories of neighbours selling out and then facing huge tax bills were around every corner and whenever he tried to research or ask questions he only got more troubled and stressed out. It seemed everyone had a story about how everything could go wrong but few had answers of how to prevent complications. He was worried, but his easy going nature combined with lots to do meant often he found it easier to just get to work and keep busy instead of dwelling on what felt like an impossible task.
Lucille, Len’s wife, had different ideas. At 60, and 2 years retired already from her job teaching high school social studies, Lucille was ready to get off the farm and start fulfilling their retirement dreams. They both wanted to travel, and she’d been planning elaborate, hypothetical trips to Europe, Australia, and Asia for years now. Lucille was ready for these dreams to stop being simply dreams. She was also tired of the long, cold winters. She’d developed arthritis in her wrists, and our frigid, Albertan winter was brutal on her joints. Because of this, they already spent a couple of weeks in Phoenix to escape the worst of the season. However, until Lenn was finished with hauling grain and mending equipment all winter, it didn’t make sense to purchase an Arizona home where they could hide from the snow for months.
So despite having had a good go of the farm and being financially secure, Len was in a bit of a rut. He was being pushed towards making a decision by Lucille, and he stressed about making the wrong choice from talking with his neighbours.
Their farm was fairly small – around 11 quarters (the Brown family owned just over 1650 acres and rented an extra quarter), but it was located on rich, black, productive soil. Their crops were usually excellent and highly profitable, especially when they managed to dodge the July hailstorms. He was also careful to make only conscious decisions about adapting new farming methods. He never jumped on a new bandwagon, and Len always took his time waiting for technologies to be proven before deciding if it suited his operation. This cautious approach meant that while little of his equipment was new, each piece was valuable and in decent condition. The equipment, along with Lucille’s readiness to be retired, was another reason to take retirement seriously. If he was going to keep farming, he knew he’d have to replace his 4 wheel drive tractor and his combine. With neither of his children interested in taking over the farm, he wasn’t sure he wanted the expense. After all, Lenn had just paid off his last land mortgage and had only a small lone remaining for some equipment and a line of credit for operating expenses. He and Lucille were enjoying the lower debt position. He was reluctant to increase his debt payments at his age, and Lucille was even more so.
A wise decision just over a decade ago to get out of cattle and mixed farming had left them with $200 000. It had taken a lot of thought, but he’d eventually decided to use that money to begin off farm investments and RRSPs. Now that he was busy trying to figure the retirement thing out, he decided investing off the farm had been a good decision after all. The fact was, neither of their kids were going to take over the farm and as he approached 64 – a year shy of the age the city guys retire, he realized that neither he nor Lucille had ever had a serious discussion with either of their kids about the future of the farm, his retirement plans, or their estate plan. He’d kept his hard thinking over the last couple years to himself, and unfortunately he hadn’t really come to any conclusions.
A few months before meeting me, just after his 64th birthday, Len was a bit shocked when his account manager began asking about his retirement plans and, despite all the years of thinking and asking questions, he realized he still didn’t have an answer. It became pretty obvious to his account manager that Len needed some serious help if he was going to be retiring by 65. However, when Len finally started asking all the questions that had been stressing him out for years – many of them were about very complex taxation and estate issues – the manager found he was also out of his depth and recommended that Len call me.
Besides his numerous questions, Len had also explained the lack of open communication with his family. His manager knew that when it comes to protecting the farming lifestyle, achieving financial goals, and helping to reestablish broken communication, there is no one better than my Farming Families team. And, with less than a year until he reached 65, we had a lot to do! Tune in next month to see just how we managed to make Lucille and Len’s retirement dreams come true: all by 65 – just like the city guys.
If, like Len, you feel that retirement is a maze or wall you can’t find a way around, contact me at (403) 277-2605. Together, we can we find a way through and make your goals and wishes a reality.