Every person owning forestlands should work with a professional to develop an estate plan, tailored to the individual needs of their family. To develop this plan, you should obtain and follow the professional advice of a trusted attorney, accountant, forester and others. Then you should work with your attorney to execute a will that addresses disposition of your assets, and also execute appropriate documentation concerning decisions that others will be able to make on your behalf.
Having a will is the most basic and most important part of planning for the future of your heirs. A will directs the disposition of assets at the time of your death and it puts you in control of how your assets will be distributed. If you die without a will, your property may be passed to your heirs according to state law, regardless of your wishes. You should engage a knowledgeable attorney who has experience drafting complex wills to handle your estate plan. The will you create with the help of your attorney should clearly identify your heirs, divide your assets, name an executor, address tax planning, create any trusts that are appropriate, and address any concerns regarding the unique and specific circumstances of your estate.
Trusts are legal entities that hold assets, established by a settlor for specific beneficiaries. A trustee or a manager appointed by the trustee manages the trust. The trustee you name has fiduciary duties, including good faith and fair dealing, trust, and confidence, to the trust and the beneficiaries. Some trusts, established by a will, are called testamentary trusts. Other types of trusts that may be applicable to an estate include asset protection, business, real estate, credit shelter, irrevocable life insurance, and others. You should speak with your attorney at length about whether a trust best serves your wishes in your estate plan. Working with the attorney, you can create trusts that will accomplish the disposition of your assets in the way that you envision for your estate.
Many landowners today have also begun to structure the ownership of their forest to take advantage of limitations of liability, and to obtain insurance to help cover risks of litigation. Families can use the family limited partnership to facilitate their goals with their family forestland. In family limited partnerships, one general partner manages the land and the remaining owners who do not participate in management are limited partners. The general partner is liable for the acts and debts of the family limited partnership, but the limited partners only have risk to the extent of the value of their interest. You can work with your attorney to form a family limited partnership—formation is completed by filing a certificate of limited partnership with the Secretary of State and having the partners execute a partnership agreement. It is a good vehicle for gifting interests in property while retaining management, and is being utilized more and more frequently in estate plans for families who own forestland.
Finally, if a successful transfer of family land is to occur, you must first create an appreciation for the land in your heirs. You should develop shared values, educate family members who are not familiar with forestry, and make the learning process enjoyable. It is easier for someone to care about a forest their family owns when they are active in its management. Consider involving the family early on in major decisions about the management of your forest. In this way you can work collaboratively to create a legacy for future generations before a transfer of responsibility occurs. You might even consider transferring the majority of control of a family forest slowly to a trusted family member while you are still alive.
When you are discussing change of control in a company or within a family, you should honestly evaluate who has the skills, interest, and time to take on this responsibility to make decisions for the future. You should also take the time to carefully choose your trustees and executors. Entrusting these responsibilities to the right people is a vital part of creating a good estate plan, and should be considered with great care.
Every forest owner should plan for the future by developing a comprehensive estate plan. By working closely with an experienced attorney, carefully reviewing options for your will, trusts and company structure, and including your family in the estate planning process, you are more likely to achieve your objectives for your family forest.
Many of these points were discussed in the recent article “Growing the next generation” by Gee Ogletree and Holmes Adams in the latest issue of Tree Talk. The article raised several excellent points about the importance of estate planning for the owners of forestland. I’d like to provide you with information about the estate planning services available here at Roberts and Blackledge. I have enclosed a brochure outlining the services that our firm can provide for planning the future of your family forest.
The attorneys at Roberts and Blackledge have 38 years of experience in working with Mississippi landowners to develop personalized, complex and comprehensive estate plans. Whether you own ten acres or several hundred, we can help you develop a plan that will serve your needs and secure your legacy in the way you choose. Call us today at 601-466-5464 or email us at Robin@RABlaw.net to set up a free consultation.