Jon Benson and Missy Zarak
We have all heard the horror stories or know a family personally whose farm and family have been torn apart after the passing of a loved one due to poor or no planning. Don’t let this be you.
The family legacy you want to leave is as unique as your farm operation. Planning is key for farm families looking to the future of how to successfully transfer ownership of their farm or ranch to the next generation. Jon Benson and Missy Zarak at Heartland Trust Company are here to help guide you with the process, provide knowledge, and listen to your needs every step of the way.
Heartland Trust is the region’s oldest independent family-owned trust company, helping families for over 30 years by specializing in Trust, Wealth Management, and 401(k) plans. Not only does Heartland handle long-term management of farmland, they also provide options for individuals who have sold the farm and need assistance with reinvestment of the assets, planning for their retirement, incorporating ways to fulfill charitable gifts and much more.
What makes a trust company like Heartland Trust special and different is that they have wide-ranging expertise, specializing in the management of stocks, bonds, cash, mutual funds, insurance policies, farmland, partnerships, LLCs, commercial real-estate, conservatorships, trusts, and estates, all under one roof.
“At Heartland Trust Company we have chosen to be a fiduciary for the benefit of the clients we serve,” says Jon Benson. “Clients experience security, peace of mind, and confidence knowing we are held to the highest legal and ethical standards, accept no commissions, and are independent with no propriety relationships so we can provide the very best services and solutions to meet the exceptions and needs of every client without compromise.”
Jon Benson, who has been with Heartland for seven years and has over 30 years of comprehensive experience, cares for his client’s needs and helps guide them through whatever challenges they may be facing. Benson, who is Heartland’s VP, Trust Officer, and Certified Farm Succession Planner, walks families through all of the options they may have when looking at transitioning the family farm. “I help families understand all of their options so they can make the best decision for their family and the farm they worked so hard for,” says Benson. “[My role] is ensuring they have peace of mind knowing their dreams and visions for the future are going to be fulfilled; our goal is always to keep the family, farm, and finances together.”
Missy Zarak, who is also a Trust Officer at Heartland, has worked in the industry for over 30 years. Zarak’s role is managing accounts and irrevocable trusts that have farmland in them. Heartland Trust works directly with individual farmers or partners with a third-party farm manager to the assets, while she manages the trust– a collaborative effort to oversee the assets for the family. “Our role is to really understand what the family’s needs are,” says Zarak. “We work with the attorneys that they have already worked with and set up the planning, and then we help facilitate the management and the ongoing management of the land, either through a trust or for them individually in the future.”
When you partner with an independent trust company like Heartland Trust, you know decisions are made locally, you are lessening the risk of family infighting over your estate, you know your assets will be managed in a prudent, professional manner, and you know your wishes and directives are followed according to the trust documents you created with your attorney.
Heartland Trust also works with many people that may have moved away from the area. They may no longer live locally but still have roots through the family farm in Minnesota, North Dakota, or in the Red River Valley area.
“For many of our clients, this is third and fourth generation farmland that they want to keep in the family. Our clients have very important and complicated needs that require thoughtful planning,” says Benson. “From succession to estate planning, tax planning, the actual settlement of the estate, to the management of the family trusts. There is a need for accountability and transparency so that all parties involved are informed and educated on the process, ongoing efforts, and the impact to them personally.”
Just like any other successful business owners, many farmers are well diversified with farmland, equipment, savings and investments, and even outside business ventures. “As a Trust Company, we’re able to help them manage all of those assets underneath one umbrella,” says Benson. “There’s nothing that we cannot do to help them manage and consolidate that asset management and reporting. This is not only beneficial for them but also for the next generation who may not have the experience or knowledge in all of the various aspects and assets in the trust and may need guidance moving forward. They are able to do all of that with one individual who is fully aware and responsible for what’s going on holistically with all of your finances and assets.”
One concern farmers and landowners may have is whether or not the trust company will continue to keep the farmland in the trust after their passing, or will they sell it immediately and invest it in the stock market. “At Heartland, we honor and respect our client’s wishes and we will continue to keep the farmland and work with your attorneys to ensure the language in your document reflects and honors your wishes,” says Benson.
Zarak’s advice for young readers is to have important conversations with family members to help shape the legacy of your farm/ ranch business. The earlier you can start to have clear, transparent conversations, the better chance your plan will achieve future success. Once communicated, choose to work with a team of professionals who understand your goals, who can legally establish a succession plan, and those you can trust to administer the plan carrying out your wishes.
The farm is an incredible legacy that can be passed on from generation to generation, profoundly impacting the lives of many to follow. Take the time to make a plan so your story can be passed on for years to come.