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Farm Estate Planning Series: Family communications including the spouse of your child

three generations of a family looking down into camera

Disclaimer – The following is meant only for educational purposes and not to be construed as legal advice.  Consult your legal advisor for actual legal advice.

As we work our way through the Farm Estate Planning Series, we have established the importance of having an estate or succession plan – for both you and your family. We have also recognized that developing an estate or succession plan is difficult, for many reasons: personal turmoil or dread, communication struggles, personality conflicts, poor planning, family conflict. Sadly, even when you establish your plan and share it with your family it can become an issue amongst the family that ranges anywhere between an annoyance to a full-fledged disaster. But in my experience, it is still worth the effort and potential heart-ache of working through those tough conversations.   

Subject of In-laws is often a source of conflict

Throughout my years in Extension as well as working as a trust officer, I have talked to a lot of farm families about future plans. A common source of conflict can be the decisions that involve your children’s spouse(s). The subject of the daughter-in-law/son-in-law (DIL/SIL) is a huge source of conflict. One of the parents (or both) will tell me that the DIL/SIL is difficult and a problem.  Parents sometimes leave the DIL/SIL out of estate/succession planning discussions and negotiations. 

Bypassing In-laws in the inheritance will create problems

In addition to excluding DIL/SIL from the discussions and negotiations, parents will sometimes bypass the DIL/SIL in the inheritance should their own child die before the parents. This means that the farm and farm assets will not go directly to the DIL/SIL but instead go to your blood related descendants known as grandchildren in order to “keep the farm in the family”.

This will create problems in your estate plan. The problems will likely show up before you are gone and what may be a well meaning plan, may have disastrous consequences for you and your child. Carefully consider and plan how you will handle the DIL/SIL in the inheritance.

An extreme but relevant example may be a situation where your child dies before you and leaves behind a spouse, your DIL/SIL. In many cases, that death may have been after a major illness or accident that resulted in large medical bills and lost income. Your DIL/SIL has been by the side of your adult child the whole way. By leaving them out of your estate plan for the reason of “keeping it in the family” would now leave the DIL/SIL in a very difficult situation. As you share your plans with your children, knowing their spouse is not “protected” in this type of situation can cause your child/children a lot of undue stress, worry, and resentment.

You can protect In-laws and “keep the farm in the family”

There are ways through your will/trust to provide for your DIL/SIL and still keep the farm in the family. If you are worried about the SIL/DIL remarrying, you can discuss this situation with your legal advisor.  You can provide income for the DIL/SIL through income from the farm assets until their death or remarriage. The latter could create problems though and you likely don’t want to discourage your DIL/SIL from remarrying. Life insurance can also be purchased before any illness on your child.

In-laws are part of the family

Let’s be direct. When the parent (s) of a family farm operation express the DIL/SIL is a problem, there may be some validity to that. Your own children often don’t see eye to eye with you or their siblings, why would a DIL/SIL be any less? They are an individual with their own personalities. Even if you really don’t like them, remember this is who your child chose to live a life with and they are part of your family.

When it comes to building your estate plan, the DIL/SIL is often left out of family discussions and this can cause bigger, unresolved issues. My strong suggestion is to include your DIL/SIL in the family discussions or give them a time to express how they feel about the plans. Make them feel heard and you will more likely than not reduce the potential for future conflict. Do not give them a bigger voice than your child, but give them a voice in the discussion. Ultimately, the estate/succession plans are your plans and you can do what you want and deal with any repercussions. 


Kevin Brooks is the Farm Business Management and Marketing Educator for Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties. He  grew up on a corn and hog farm in Iowa. He received his bachelor of science degree in agriculture business from Truman State University and his master of science degree from University of Missouri in agriculture education.

Kevin is licensed in Illinois as a real estate broker with harVestco LLC in Champaign, IL.   He has professionally managed and consulted on over 25,000 acres of farmland and marketed grain for farm management customers as a professional farm management and trust officer.  Kevin has taught Farm Management, Agri Business Management, Crop Science, Crop Production, Soil Science, Pesticide Application, Grain Marketing, and General Horticulture at the college level.

Kevin holds agriculture teaching certifications in Illinois and Missouri.  He is also a commercially licensed UAS (drone) pilot holding an FAA Part 107 license.  He has worked in agricultural input sales (farm chemicals and seed) and is trained in agronomy through Purdue University and Iowa State University. Early in his career he worked for USDA, as a Farm Management Specialist, working primarily on farm loan analysis.

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