Farmers, Business Owners & Entrepreneurs

Introduction: A Farmer’s Transition

Welcome to the world of strategic farm transition planning! Whether you’re just starting out or seeking to refine your strategy, this guide has been thoughtfully designed to provide you with some valuable insights and practical steps to secure your farming legacy and ensure equitable distribution among your loved ones.

Section 1: Embracing Change and Anticipating the Future

Start with a Chat

Initiating the Farm Transition Plan: Taking the First Step

Beginning the journey of creating a farm transition plan is often the most challenging part. You might have gathered knowledge from seminars, discussions with peers, or even by perusing guides like this, yet the actual initiation can still seem daunting due to the overwhelming amount of information available

The Simplest Starting Point: Consulting with an Advisor

The most straightforward and effective way to begin is to schedule a casual meeting with a farm transition advisor. These introductory sessions, usually offered at no cost, are excellent opportunities for portfolio reviews and to set the wheels in motion.

Visualizing the Plan: A Roadmap to Progress

In our experience, laying out a clear, step-by-step plan is beneficial. It helps maintain momentum and provides clarity on the subsequent stages of the process. Without this guidance and a dedicated ‘quarterback’ to steer the plan, many families find themselves at a standstill, uncertain of the next steps. A typical farm transition plan can span 18 months, emphasizing the need for a structured approach.

Regular Reviews: Adapting to Change

Once your transition plan is in place, it’s important to revisit and update it every three years to adapt to any changes in your circumstances or in the agricultural sector.

An Invitation to Begin

If you’re poised to start and seeking the reassurance of a well-thought-out plan for your farm’s future, we encourage you not to delay. Let’s arrange a meeting over coffee and embark on this pivotal journey together.

Section 2: Tax-Savvy Strategies for Farmers

Unveiling the Hidden Tax: AMT

The AMT, a lesser-known tax component, might emerge in the year you sell your farm. This tax is triggered when there’s a significant difference between your total personal income and your taxable income due to various deductions and credits.

Illustrating AMT with a Real-Life Scenario

Imagine selling a piece of farmland to a neighbour for $1,000,000 which was originally purchased for $100,000 a few decades ago. This sale boosts your total income to $500,000 considering half of the capital gains are counted as income. However, utilizing your $1,000,000 capital gains exemption brings your taxable income down to zero.

The Unexpected AMT Tax Bite

At first glance, it appears that this lucrative deal is tax-free. But here’s where AMT silently plays its roll. Due to the substantial gap between your total income and the negligible taxable income, AMT becomes applicable.

AMT: A Prepayment, not a Penalty

In such scenarios, you might face up to $50,000 in AMT. However, it is not entirely a setback. These are covered by your AMT credit, reducing it to $40,000. In 2023, a tax liability arises of $15,000. Your AMT credit absorbs this, dropping to $25,000. This process continues until the AMT credit is exhausted or seven years have elapsed.

A Word of Caution: Be mindful that any unused AMT credit after seven years, or in the event of your passing, cannot be reclaimed. Therefore, integrating AMT considerations into your future tax strategy, especially before selling farm assets, is crucial to prevent the loss of these prepaid tax benefits.

Capital Gains Exemption: Multiply and Maximize

Learn how to make the most out of your $1,000,000 capital gains exemption, including a creative strategy involving your children.

Enhancing Capital Gains Exemption in Farm Transfers

One of the significant tax advantages for farmers is the $1,000,000 capital gains exemption on qualified farm property. This exemption allows you to reduce your taxable gain by a substantial amount when you sell your farm.

Strategic Use of Capital Gains Exemption

However, when the gains from your farm sale exceed this $1,000,000 threshold, you face taxable gains. To mitigate this, strategic planning is essential. One effective approach is to transfer your farmland to your children at least three years before you plan to sell. This transfer, given the farmland is qualified, doesn’t trigger immediate taxes.

Leveraging Children’s Exemptions

Three years post-transfer, your children can utilize their own capital gains exemptions when they sell the land to a third party. This method effectively doubles the exemption benefits. It’s important to note that this strategy needs foresight and careful planning.

Other Considerations and Benefits

You might ponder the fairness of using your children’s exemptions. Consider these points: Firstly, your child might not use the exemption unless they start and sell a business. Secondly, tax benefits and exemptions are subject to change with government policies. Lastly, you could compensate your children with the tax savings generated from using their exemptions.

Weighing the Alternatives

The alternative to not leveraging your children’s exemption is straightforward: paying the additional taxes to the government. Many would prefer to benefit their children rather than increase their tax payments.

A Word of Caution: This strategy requires transferring ownership of the land to your children, meaning you relinquish control over it. Trust in your children’s commitment to the plan is crucial, especially considering potential complications such as divorce within this timeframe.

OAS Considerations: Timing your Sale Right

Optimizing Old Age Security (OAS) Benefits in Farm Sales

For farmers contemplating the sale of their property, especially those aged between 60 and 64, timing is a crucial element in maximizing Old Age Security (OAS) benefits. Selling before turning 65 can prevent the loss of a year’s worth of OAS.

Understanding OAS and Net Income

OAS eligibility and the amount you receive are directly influenced by your net income. For instance, in 2022, the full OAS is available if your net income is below $81,761. Beyond this threshold, OAS begins to decrease; for every dollar earned above $81,761, you return 15 cents to the government. Once your income hits $144,141, you lose all your OAS benefits.

The Impact of Farm Sale on OAS

Selling your farm can significantly increase your net income for the year, even if your taxable income remains low due to the capital gains exemption. This spike in net income can lead to a substantial OAS claw back.

Strategic Timing for Maximizing Benefits

If you’re on the verge of selling your farm and nearing the age of 65, consider the financial advantages of selling earlier. While the OAS might seem minimal, approximately $8,002 per year or $16,004 for couples, it adds up. Selling your farm a year earlier than planned could mean retaining an additional $16,004 in income, a notable amount when considering the cumulative tax contributions over your lifetime.

Section 3: Beyond the Balance Sheet – Family, Fairness, and Future Planning

Fair Inheritance: Balancing the Equation

Addressing the inheritance balance between children involved in farming and those who aren’t is a nuanced task. It’s crucial that ‘fair’ doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘equal’. To approach this complexity, a formulaic method is proposed to establish a baseline for fairness, considering the evolving value of agricultural land.

The Fairness Formula Explained

The formula to gauge equitable distribution is: [(Total Net Worth) – (Total Tax Liability) – (Total Debt) – (Uncompensated Farm Child Contributions)] / Number of Children

This formula considers:

  • Total Net Worth: The sum of all farm and non-farm assets
  • Total Tax Liability: The estimated taxes if all assets were liquidated (including farmland, equipment, inventory, RRSPs and personal properties)
  • Total Debt: all outstanding debts, both farm-related and personal
  • Farm Child’s Sweat Equity: The value of the farming child’s unpaid labour and contributions over the years

Case Study for Clarity

For instance, if the farm is valued at $5,000,000 with additional non-farm assets worth $1,000,000, a tax liability of $1,000,000, debts of $500,000 and farming child’s sweat equity valued at $200,000. With three children involved, the calculation would be:

($6,000,000) – ($1,000,000) – ($500,000) – (($200,000) = $4,300,000

Divided by three children: $1,433,300

In this scenario, the farming child receives the farm, while the non-farming children are allotted $1,433,333 each. If there’s a shortfall in non-farm assets, several strategies can be considered to balance the scales:

  • Allocating certain farm assets to non-farming children
  • Arranging for the farming child to compensate their siblings over time
  • Leveraging the farm finances to cover the disparity
  • Incrementally setting aside funds for non-farming children
  • Investing in life insurance policies to offset future imbalances

It’s important to understand the formula may be adjusted to account for previous gifts to non-farming children, to ensure that the distribution remains equitable.

Retirement Planning: Envision Your Future

Envisioning Retirement: Balancing Farm Income and Personal Needs

As you approach the pivotal decision of transferring your farm, a key aspect to consider is your retirement vision. It’s crucial to contemplate various lifestyle choices, such as continuing farm work, relocating, or pursuing travel, and how these decisions impact your financial needs.

Personal Retirement Planning: A Prerequisite to Farm Transfer

Before initiating farm transfer discussions, it’s essential to thoroughly understand your retirement requirements. Assessing whether the farm’s income is crucial for your retirement lifestyle is the first step. This assessment becomes even more critical if you plan to sell or transfer the farm to a family member, potentially at a discounted rate.

The Need for Detailed Financial Projections

Given the complexities of tax regulations in farming, creating a detailed financial projection is indispensable. Avoid oversimplified estimates and engage with a professional accountant and an advisor specializing in agriculture. These experts can help navigate the unique tax implications and ensure your retirement plan is both realistic and tax efficient.

Utilizing Financial Tools for Accurate Projections

To aid in this process, specific tools such as a cash flow analysis excel sheet are available. These tools are designed to help you calculate your current expenditure and project your financial needs during retirement accurately. This step is crucial in determining how much income you need to sustain your desired lifestyle post-retirement and how it influences the terms of your farm’s transfer.

Protect Your Legacy: Safeguarding Against Unforeseen Circumstances

When transferring farm assets to your children, understanding the implications on marital property and potential tax consequences is crucial.

Asset Protection in Marital Transitions

Gifts from parents, including cash or farm property, are typically not considered marital assets. Keeping such gifts in separate accounts, not jointly held with a spouse, offers protection in divorce scenarios. Similarly, gifting a farm keeps it out of marital asset division.

Comparing Gifting vs. Selling the Farm: Scenario 1: Selling with Tax Benefits

The method of transferring the farm – whether as a gift or a sale – has distinct implications:

When you “sell” the farm to your child, using your capital gains exemption, the farm’s cost base is elevated, potentially reducing future tax burdens on its sale. However, the farm becomes part of the child’s marital property.

Example: A farm bought for $250,000 and now worth $1,250,000 is “sold” to the child, raising the cost base to $1,250,000. This reduces potential future capital gains.

Scenario 2: Gifting and Tax Considerations

Gifting the farm does not allow the use of capital gains exemptions to increase its cost base.
Example: Gifting a farm valued at $1,250,000, initially purchased for $250,000, means any future sale by your child will calculate capital gains from the original $250,000 cost base, leading to higher taxes compared to the selling scenario.

Balancing Objectives: Tax Efficiency vs. Asset Protection

The decision hinges on what matters more: optimizing tax efficiency or safeguarding the farm from marital disputes.

Creative Solutions: The Role of Promissory Notes

A strategic approach involves “selling” the farm to your child in exchange for a promissory note, instead of immediate payment. This note can be called upon in the event of a marital breakdown, offering an added layer of protection. If no such issues arise, the note can be forgiven upon your death, combining the tax benefits of a sale with the protective nature of a gift.

Section 4: Envisioning a Tax-Free World

Dream First, Plan Later

Prioritizing Your Vision Over Tax Implications in Farm Planning

Imagine a scenario where taxes don’t influence your decisions. This approach can be particularly enlightening for farmers, who often inadvertently sideline their true preferences due to the daunting shadow of potential tax implications. It’s common to observe farmers modifying their ideal plans in favor of more tax-efficient strategies, even if these don’t align with their ultimate aspirations.

Starting with Your Ideal Vision

The key is to begin your farm planning by clearly communicating your ideal scenario to your advisory team, without initially worrying about the tax costs. This vision provides a solid foundation from which to start. Your advisors can then assess the tax implications of your plan and suggest modifications that might make it more tax-efficient without significantly deviating from your original intent.

Balancing Desires with Tax Realities

Once the tax implications are laid out, you can make an informed decision: whether to absorb the tax costs to fulfill your vision or adjust your plans slightly to reduce the tax burden. This process ensures that tax considerations are a part of the decision-making process but don’t dominate it.

Advisor’s Role in Aligning Vision with Practicality

As an advisor, understanding your core desires allows for the formulation of strategies that not only are tax-efficient but also resonate with your fundamental goals for the farm. This approach ensures that proposed ideas are tailored to your preferences, rather than being solely tax-driven suggestions that may not fully address your objectives.

Section 5: The Power of Insurance in Farm Planning

Corporate Life Insurance: A Strategic Asset

Incorporating life insurance into farm transition plans is a common and effective strategy, particularly for providing non-farming children with equitable assets upon the farmer’s death.

Optimizing Life Insurance through Corporate Ownership

For farmers who are considering or already have life insurance policies, it’s advantageous to have these policies owned by the farm corporation. This approach offers several financial benefits:

Payment with Pre-Tax Dollars: When the farm corporation pays the insurance premiums, it uses pre-tax dollars. For instance, a $5,000 annual premium paid personally might require a $6,000 corporate payout to cover personal tax liabilities. Corporate payment directly saves this additional tax.

Tax-Efficient Death Benefits: Upon the policyholder’s death, the life insurance payout can be transferred from the corporation to beneficiaries tax-free through the capital dividend account. However, it’s crucial to note that the percentage of the tax-free benefit can vary based on the policy type and duration. For example, with permanent life insurance, if the death occurs within the first 20 years, around 80% of the benefit might be tax-free. In contrast, living into your 90s could allow for almost the entire benefit to be withdrawn tax-free. Consulting with a financial planner specializing in farm finances is recommended for precise planning.

Dispelling Common Myths About Insurance Premium Write-Offs

A widespread misconception is that life insurance payments can be written off as business expenses. This is generally not the case, except under specific conditions, such as when a lender requires life insurance as a condition for a loan.

Section 6: Communication is Key

Taking the First Step

Realize that starting is often the hardest part, but with the right guidance and a clear path, you can navigate this complex journey successfully.
One surefire way to sow seeds of discord in a family is to pass away without having shared your succession intentions with all your children. In scenarios where only the child involved in farming is aware of your plans, others may feel excluded or suspicious of undue influence.

The Imperative of Inclusive Family Dialogues

This need for openness is particularly crucial if one of your children is set to take over the farm. It’s essential to involve all your children in a comprehensive family discussion about your plans for the farm’s future. Such a conversation is less critical but still recommended even when no children are involved in farming.

Benefits of a Pre-Emptive Discussion

An open dialogue offers you the opportunity to clarify your decisions and rationale to your children directly. It enables your children to express their thoughts and concerns, which you can address while you are still around. Remember, explanations and reconciliations are impossible after you’re gone.

Proactive Communication as a Harmony Strategy

Initiating these conversations today is crucial for preserving family unity and understanding post-transition. It’s not just about sharing your plans, but about building a consensus and ensuring that all voices are heard and respected. This approach goes a long way in preventing misunderstandings and maintaining familial bonds in the wake of significant farm transitions.

*The comments contained herein are a general discussion of certain issues intended as general
information only and should not be relied upon as tax or legal advice. Please obtain independent
professional advice, in the context of your particular circumstances.