Start the conversation early. That was the key message from Sian Bushell, a succession facilitator from Wales, and Clare O’Keeffe of Succession Ireland at the Women & Agriculture Conference last week.

“There will be succession. Nobody gets out if this one alive,” joked Sian. The question is whether you are going to leave your assets in a way that benefits people or potentially causes serious divisions.

Sian and Clare spelled out how importance it is to sit down with the family to identify what each one wants, both now and in the future. “Being fair might not mean being equal when it comes to assets, especially farms,” said Clare. However, the real problems arise if some children feel that they have not been consulted in the succession planning process.

Sian and Clare have helped many families with their succession plans. Too often it is reactive planning after a significant event, such as a death.

“This causes unnecessary strain compared to cases where they have already talked it though,” said Sian.

“A real need for succession planning is where a young person wants to come home to farm. It is not all about assets. You have to set ground rules, like how long people are expected to work and what responsibilities each will have. There is a clear need for communication, set meetings and – above all – respect for each other,” said Sian.

A danger Clare is coming across with families is where a plan was put in place after young farmers return. Some land was handed over and some kept in the parents’ name as security for the future.

“This was a good plan at the time but as time moved on and the parents got older, the second half of the plan to transfer the land was forgotten about. This has caused major problems both from a Fair Deal Scheme situation and also due to changes in circumstances where other siblings return to look for more. This can lead to awful family disputes that can be avoided,” said Clare.

The importance of tax planning alongside any transfer of assets has to be carefully considered and they urged those in attendance to get expert advice in this area. There were concerns from the audience that older people can give away too much too soon.

Earlier in the conference, we had been told that women are living longer and to take this into account when setting up pensions. One session with Noel Leahy was about making sure you get the maximum State pension.

“No one can live on that alone,” one woman said.

“We have to make sure we look after ourselves as well,” she added. I agree with their concerns and would put the care of parents as the first item on a family discussion.

“We would even go as far as ask them where the parents want to live, even when one passes away. Who they would like to look after them is another topic to be examined,” said Clare. A fear of making changes and of the future did come through in some of the questions.

To me, the session and the reaction showed the importance of starting the conversation early. CL

Succession planning workshops

The Irish Farmers Journal and Succession Ireland are joining up to help people start the conversation early. We are running two one-day workshops to help families develop their own succession plans.

The first workshop is on Tuesday 14 November in The Lakeside Hotel, Killaloe, Co Clare. The second is on Wednesday 22 November in Knightsbrook Hotel, Trim, Co Meath. The price is €150 per person or €250 per couple for the day. This includes lunch, teas and coffees, and a workbook. Places are limited and couples are encouraged to come. The aim is to get couples or farm owners to take time away from their daily routine to focus on the options and help develop a workable, harmonious succession plan.

It allows you to be proactive. The earlier the thought process begins, the more options and opportunities are available.

The workshop is specifically focusing on the succession process. You will meet other people in the same situation and hear from experts on the legal side, accounting and family communications. You will leave with a plan and actions on how to progress.

To book a place at either venue, call 01-4199 525 or visit our site at

Conference Programme

9.30am Registration tea/coffee on arrival

9.45am Welcome and introduction

10.00am-11.15am – Session I

Your family – drawing an individual family tree – identifying actions.

The past – learn from it; the present – live it; and the future – plan for it.

11.30am-12.30pm – Session 2

Write agenda for discussion with your family. What needs to be addressed? What’s important? Fears, concerns, hopes and reality. Addressing difficult topics.

12.30pm-1.30pm – Lunch

1.30pm-2.30pm – Session 3

Identify potential difficulties and explore solutions.

2.30pm-3.30pm – Session 4

Panel with accountants, legal and banking experts.

3.30pm-4pm One-to-one questions and answers session. Tea/coffee

4pm- 5pm – Session 5

Commencing the process, committing to action.

5pm - 5.15pm Evaluation and closure.