"Because it involves talking about the deaths of family elders and who gets the farm after their passing, farm estate-planning isn't easy for farm families to do," says John Porter, retired University of New Hampshire Extension dairy specialist.

"Fear of the unknown, dislike of the subject, or just plain procrastination often shove this topic down the priority list. However, it's better to have those conversations with all the players around the table, rather than trying to second-guess what mom or dad would have wanted in the emotion-filled days after they die."

"After all," Porter says, "what's more important to a farmer than seeing a life's work — maybe generations of work — continue on?"

And what greater public benefit than keeping agricultural land open, since working farmland allows groundwater recharge, buffers against floods, filters pollutants, provides wildlife habitat, and delivers the scenic views.

Real families tackle the issues

To help break the ice on this subject and hear from families who have dealt with estate-planning issues, a team of Extension colleagues that included family resource management specialist Suzann Enzian Knight, program assistant Katherine Fredette Porter, and agricultural business management specialist Mike Sciabarrasi, has produced a series of six videocasts of farm families telling their farm-succession stories. The Family Farm Finances Web site Knight organized three years ago also contains a wealth of additional farm-family financial management information.