Defining Your Goals
Articulating Your Goals
Begin by thinking about what you want most—to see your land remain undeveloped forever? to maintain family harmony? to preserve flexibility for your heirs? You may want to rank your goals in order of their importance, and list any challenges standing in the way of your goals.
If you own your land with others, your next step will be to talk about your goals and values with your spouse or co-owners.
Involving Family in the Decision
If you have children, it’s up to you to decide to what extent you want to involve them in determining the future of your land.
Discovering your family members’ needs and wishes can take place either at a family meeting or through individual conversations. In either case, your goal is to get a sense of your family’s personal and financial goals and how they feel about the land.
A family meeting is a forum in which family members can share their ideas and concerns. The goal of the family meeting is to give individual members the opportunity to express what the land means to them as well as their financial or practical needs, and to allow the family to hear the needs and wants of others. This can be accomplished by simply asking each person to talk about how he or she feels about the land. Together, this information can guide your next steps and inform your work with estate planning professionals.
Sometimes a family’s dynamics prevent them from having healthy conversations about the future of the land. However, avoiding these important conversations now will likely lead to even more tension in the family later. A neutral person or a professional facilitator can often help guide these difficult conversations.
Though your goal may be to get your family to agree on a plan for your estate, there may be situations in which families are not able to work together or agree. In this case, you need to be prepared to take the input you have received; work with the necessary professionals; and do what you believe is right for yourself, your family, and your land. Do not get paralyzed by family disagreements. If you avoid planning because people don’t agree now, you can be sure the conflict will be greatly exacerbated after you are gone.
Defining the next step
Maintaining momentum is very important. From these discussions, you should be ready to move forward by answering two important questions that can lead you to tools and professionals to help you reach your goals:
- Do you want to control who will own the land next?
- Do you want to keep some or all of the land in its undeveloped, natural state?
Text by: Paul Catanzaro, UMass-Amherst & Jessica Leahy, UMaine