The approach to your 60th birthday is often the signal for people to think about beginning to wind down towards retirement.
But despite the average age of a farmer in the UK being close to this number, it’s not something that’s on the cards for many of them, whether out of personal choice to carry on for the foreseeable future or concerns about who, if anyone, might be able to run the business in their place.
For anyone in this age group, there is the possibility that physical or mental incapacity could strike unexpectedly – but given the demanding nature of the job, this is a particular issue for farmers and could leave both them and their farm business in a vulnerable position.
An often physically debilitating and unforeseeable event such as a stroke, or the onset of Dementia or Alzheimer’s, can leave you in the unexpected situation of no longer being able to manage your own affairs.
In such circumstances, you, or your loved ones, could be left facing any number of challenging legal issues that could make things very difficult for all parties if you’ve not addressed them in advance.
For example, if you are a sole trader, how will day-to-day decisions about the management of the farm be made if you are unable to make them, or if you farm in partnership, is there a partnership agreement in place which sets out what happens in the event of physical or mental incapacity?
If you are the main – or indeed only – signatory for the business bank account, will it become inaccessible if you can’t work as usual? If that happens, how will wages and suppliers get paid, or subsidies be claimed?
If you can’t continue to live in your farmhouse, are there any implications for Inheritance Tax reliefs that may have been available on your subsequent death?
Does anyone else know enough to keep the business running in your absence, whether it is a short-term, long-term or even permanent one, and speaking more broadly, do people know for sure what your wishes are if you pass away?
These are all difficult issues to cover for anyone at any time, but this past year will have brought their importance into sharp focus for many people and will have got them thinking about what might happen should the unexpected arise.
Aside from the need to review the way in which the farm business operates, and how records are stored and maintained, there are two key things that can be done to pre-empt these issues, the first of which is obtaining a Lasting Power of Attorney.
This is a legal document which allows you to name someone (referred to as an Attorney) to make decisions on your behalf if you are ever unable to make them yourself.
The two different types of Lasting Powers allow an Attorney to make decisions about property and financial affairs, and about health and welfare issues respectively, and must be entered into when you still have the mental capacity to understand the authority you are granting.
Somewhat more familiar to most is making a Will, which is something that many of us put off for various reasons, but which is needed to provide a structure for what will happen to your estate when you die.
A Will gives you the chance to consider how to provide for farming and non-farming members of your family, how assets can be passed in the most tax efficient ways and how to structure your affairs in lifetime to maximise any Inheritance Tax reliefs which may be available on your death.
The peace of mind that going through these processes gives you before any issues arise is matched by the certainty that they offer your beneficiaries, and it makes clear sense to put all the required measures in place well in advance of them being needed.