New publication discusses second marriages and farm transition planning

By:Robert Moore, Tuesday, December 05th, 2023

Legal Groundwork

Second marriages present unique challenges for farm transition planning. This is especially true when the second marriage occurs later in life and the spouses have accrued significant assets and/or have children from prior marriages. The spouses in a second marriage obviously want to help provide for each other but may have a competing interest of providing for their children but not necessarily stepchildren. Without good planning, it is possible that farm assets will end up with a spouse or stepchildren who were not involved in the farming operation.

Farm Transition Planning Strategies for Second Marriages, a new bulletin available at farmoffice.osu.edu, addresses the two most common sources of risk to farming operations when a second marriage is involved – death and divorce. While these risks cannot be eliminated, there are strategies to help minimize the risks to ensure, as best we can, that farm assets stay with the farm family. The bulletin discusses the strategies and how they can be integrated into a farm transition plan.

Strategies to protect farms from the death of a second spouse mostly involves incorporating a trust in the farm transition plan.  A trust can hold assets for the surviving spouse without giving legal ownership to the spouse.  The trust serves the dual purpose of providing  income and other resources for the surviving spouse while also protecting those assets to ultimately be inherited by the deceased spouse’s heirs.  Trusts are an excellent tool to both provide for spouses and protect assets for future generations.

Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements can be used to reduce the risks of divorce.  These agreements between spouses specifically identify which assets are considered joint, marital assets and which assets are to be considered outside of the marriage.  These designations can help safeguard farm assets by keeping them immune from a division of assets in a divorce.   A recent change in the law allows spouses to enter into such an agreement even after the marriage has occurred.

Any farmers who are in a second marriage should consider including a trust and/or pre/postnuptial agreement into their farm transition plan.  An attorney experienced in farm transition planning can assist with deciding if a trust or marriage agreement is needed and how best to integrate into a farm transition plan.  The Farm Transition Planning Strategies for Second Marriages bulletin provides a detailed discussion of trusts and marriage agreements and their potential impact on farm transition planning.