Keeping forestland in the family
About 42 percent of the nation's forestlands are in private hands, and most of these are family-owned forests. Many landowners would like to keep their forests in the family, but that isn't always easy.
"The reality is that the vast majority of these privately owned family forests will change hands over the next several decades as the current generation of owners ages," said Larry Godsey, economist with the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry and co-author of a new publication designed to help landowners prepare for the successful transfer of forestland from one generation to the next.
"Family forestland often evokes strong emotional ties to the land," Godsey said. "Providing stewardship of the land frequently becomes part of the owner's life ethic." Heirs, however, may have differing interests, priorities, needs or obligations; live too far away to take an active management role; or not get along with one another.
"Families that own forestland today are often faced with a vast array of financial and personal challenges as they contemplate how to preserve this asset for future generations," he said.
The 12-page guide, "Succession Planning for Woodland Owners," written by Godsey with financial adviser and tree farmer David Watson, examines the legal, financial and interpersonal issues woodland owners will likely confront in succession planning. Topics explored in the guide include:
--How to assemble a competent team of experts, including an estate-planning attorney, accountant, financial planner and consulting forester.
--Issues such as incapacity of the owner while alive; minimizing estate tax; special family distribution needs; and protecting the woodland from creditors.
--Legal instruments such as wills, trusts, power of attorney, advance medical directives and conservation easements.
--Creating a vision statement to serve as a compass for targeting specific goals, such as producing sustainable long-term revenues, providing recreational opportunities and developing habitats for native wildlife.
--Assessing heirs objectively to determine which are best to manage the forestland and which are possibly better suited for other family assets.
"There is a lot to consider in planning a transfer from the current to the future generation of forestland owners, and each person's situation is unique," Godsey said. "This guide makes sure forestland owners have all of the facts in front of them before they begin their plan."
The new guide is available for purchase or free download at extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPub.aspx?P=AF1013.
For more information about the MU Center for Agroforestry, see www.centerforagroforestry.org.