Powers of attorney: Continuing your farm’s legacy
Ensuring plans are in place for a person’s estate and financial affairs to be taken care of in case they are ever unable to do so themselves is essential in any circumstance, but especially so in the agricultural community.
It is a good choice to have a power of attorney, which allows nominated individuals to take over management when capacity is lost, due to old age, illness, or injury.
Under normal circumstances, managing bank accounts is the main responsibility of an attorney. However, in the agricultural community, it is possible that attorneys will be required to run a large farm, and deal with the complexities that come with it.
Debra Burton, contentious will and probate specialist, explains:
Due to the substantial responsibility of managing a farm, nominating the right person to have power of attorney on your behalf is vital and not an easy decision to make. Not only is the present success of your land important, but so is it’s future success. Whoever is granted power of attorney on your behalf should share your values in order to secure the farm’s continued upkeep, as well as having the knowledge, skills and desire to manage the farming business if necessary.
Unfortunately, willingness alone is not enough to maintain and manage a farm. When choosing an attorney – or attorneys – considering organisational ability, financial awareness, and trustworthiness is key. If you are appointing more than one attorney, a good relationship between the attorneys is essential to avoid conflict. It is not uncommon for those who have power of attorney to butt heads over what each thinks is the right decision for the person and the farm. Although two heads are often better than one, it could lead to disputes e.g. about whether to sell the land or not.
When an attorney’s role involves managing a farm, tackling it alone can be difficult. Therefore, appointing two or more attorneys is the safest choice. Doing so shares responsibility while also lessening the chance of someone abusing their power over your assets.
Liaising with a solicitor is the ideal place to start the attorney appointment process. Your solicitor will discuss your possible choices and your wishes and can also assess whether the candidates have the capacity and ability to fulfil the role. Not only this, your solicitor can also notify the future attorney/s when necessary. Once the appropriate documentation has been drafted and signed, it can be kept safe until needed.
Even after the most careful thought, there is always the possibility that future issues can occur, such as fraud, theft, or an attorney acting out of line with your wishes. The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) monitors attorneys and anyone who believes an attorney is not behaving in an appropriate manner should notify them. If the behaviour is criminal, then the police will need to be notified.
Executing a power of attorney is a decision that carries consequences. You need to know that if you were to lose capacity, the person or people taking over will run your farm as you’d like it to be run.
Additionally, agreeing to be someone’s attorney is also not a decision to be taken lightly. Successfully managing a farm involves a level of dedication and knowledge that goes beyond most businesses. Choosing wisely is necessary for the future legacy of your farm.