"More family woodlands will change hands and be sub-divided in the next 10 years than at any point in America’s history." That fact struck me as I was reviewing the newly revised estate planning resource available from the USDA Forest Service entitled: "Estate Planning for Forest Landowners: What will become of your Timberland?" I was similarly taken by how many presentations were given on this topic at the New England Society of American Foresters (SAF) winter conference held in Portland, Maine this past March.
These multi-day meetings are attended by natural resource professionals and landowners alike and discussion topics generally run the gamut from the latest forest management trends and pressing issues to the use of forest management in global climate change. Estate Planning has rarely received much attention in the past, however, this year my partners and I heard from seven different presenters during the three day conference on the topic of maintaining the family forest. It was clear to me from the very first presentation why this topic received so much air time. The statistics are compelling. The majority of forestlands in New England and the country as a whole are privately owned and it is estimated that 95% of the non-industrial private ownerships do not have a plan for that land to transition to successive generations.
I can understand why this type of planning gets put off, it is not an easy topic and most people would prefer to avoid it altogether, myself included. After all, we are wrestling with the realities of our own mortality and the fate of a resource for which we care dearly. However, it is important to know that there are resources available to help forest landowners through this process. First, it is important to get an understanding of the estate planning process in general and how forest ownership adds a degree of complexity. The USDA publication I mentioned above, "Estate Planning for Forest Landowners: What will become of your Timberland?" is an excellent first step toward gaining this understanding. My initial review of the document found it to be well organized, thorough, and very current. This document can be obtained through the USDA Forest service here (2.23 MB PDF) or viewed through a link on the Integrated Forest Management website.
Second, forest landowners should seek the advice of professionals skilled in the different disciplines requisite to develop a transition plan. Every situation is unique, but at a minimum this team should include: an attorney versed in estate planning, a certified public accountant (CPA), and a licensed professional forester. Each of these professionals can help landowners understand their options and the impact of each option on the resource that they, in some cases, have spent a lifetime stewarding.
Lastly, it is important to note that a critical factor in this process is time. As with investing, the more time you have the greater your options. It is never too early to begin drafting a plan for the succession of forestland. One of the presenters at the SAF conference left me with this thought that if you are 40 years old, own forestland, and have children, you should consider starting this process. If you would like more information or would like to discuss how our team could help you begin this process, please contact one of the Integrated Forest Management professionals at 207-225-5202 or visit our website for other contact options.