When 35 farmers from across the country were asked about retirement, few had any idea what it would be like for them, says Sharon DeVaney, Purdue University associate professor of consumer and family sciences. "No one cited a specific date for retirement and no one was planning to completely stop working," she says.
Her insights parallel the experiences of W. Alan Miller, Purdue farm business management specialist, who assists farm families with estate planning and farm transfer issues.
"When you are age 30 or 40, you may think you don't want to retire, but a lot can change in 20 or 30 years," says Mr. Miller. "Even if you don't think you'll retire, it's wise to have the option if you later decide you want to."
For the few who had planned for retirement, having an heir to take over the business was an incentive, Ms. DeVaney notes. Other contributing factors were the farm's size and the physical effects of aging, which made it more difficult to work.
Ms. DeVaney suggests one of the barriers to retirement planning may be the difficulty some families have in discussing their finances. "It takes time to plan. It's not always easy to decide who's going to get what," she says.
Mr. Miller points out that can be especially true if the farm is the vehicle through which a producer plans to finance his or her retirement. For example, if the parent needs to sell the farm to generate retirement income, and a child is expecting to inherit the business, that can present a problem.
Since farming often intertwines family and business, Ms. DeVaney and Mr. Miller contend it's critical that all the "players" be involved in the planning.
Mr. Miller points out that having a retirement plan can benefit the family as well as other farm employees. "Providing a retirement fund can be a nice employee benefit," he says.
Ms. DeVaney suggests steps that can help you plan for retirement:
- Seek opportunities to gain retirement benefits through off-farm employment.
- Start planning for retirement early, when you have more options.
- Diversify investments to protect the funds that you set aside for retirement.
- Work on improving family communication and decision making.
To assist in farm-related retirement planning, Ms. DeVaney and Janet Bechman, Purdue University family resource management specialist, developed a web resource called "Planning for a Secure Retirement." You can access the tutorial, which provides education and step-by-step advice on retirement planning, at www.ces.purdue.edu/retirement.