Covid-19 Forces Farmers To Consider Their Mortality And Protect Family

Coronovirus outbreak has brought about a new perspective on life for farmers and a wake up call when dealing with financial affairs to ensure their families are protected now and in the future if the worse should happen.

With the farming and agriculture industry having so much to deal with, especially in the current climate, protecting their families’ interests, by way of making a Will has not been top of their agenda.

Farming Wills is a complex and specialist area, given the Coronavirus pandemic, it has obviously put it under the spotlight how important it is to make a Will or update an existing Will – and we have inevitably seen a surge in Will-making due to the pandemic.

Our industry experts discuss whether they have seen a shift in the farming community to take action and ask for expert legal advice to ensure they are protecting their interests and families and if the advice to their clients had changed due to the pandemic.

Laura Phillips, senior associate at Kingsley Napley LLP said:

“Farming disputes relating to trusts and probate have been increasing over the last few years. They usually begin with a relationship breakdown between family members and concern assets of large value, these factors make these types of disputes ripe for media attention, which can be distressing for usually quite private people. It seems inevitable that the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic will only add to the rise of cases in this area.

“In light of the current issues with social distancing and lockdown, as well as the risks of catching Covid-19, we have received increasing queries relating to parties trying to resolve issues between the parties without resorting to litigation. Remote mediation and ADR has always been available, albeit usually utilised in international disputes where travel is time consuming and cost prohibitive. Parties now seem more comfortable with the concept of online platforms and video conferencing and, given the practical implications, remote mediation is likely to be attractive to parties even after the current restrictions have eased.

“In practice, remote mediation means that the parties do not have to be in the same physical location which reduces time and costs for all parties. The reason this seems to be more appealing to the farming community is that it makes meetings logistically easier to attend, removing the stress and time of attending mediation in person and being away from the farm for a considerable period of time.”

Tom Hewitt, Partner at Burges Salmon LLP and STEP member commented, he said:

“We have seen an upswing in farmers and landowners wishing to progress their estate and succession planning – and inevitably updating of Wills has an important part to play there. It is very difficult to judge how much of this activity is driven by concerns about the pandemic and how much is due to concerns that the IHT and CGT rules may be about to become less advantageous and the window for some tax efficient gifts may be closing. But there is no question that some clients have been forced to consider their mortality where previously they were reluctant to engage.”

Nia Griffiths, solicitor in the Trust and Estate Administration team at Hugh James added:

“In the current pandemic, it’s more important than ever for the farming community to think about the continuity of their business and the impact an unforeseen event can have on their livelihoods and those who work on their farms.

“We regularly act for farmers and many of the farms are family-owned. They haven’t faced the same issues as larger corporations and have been able to continue throughout the pandemic with limited disruption. However, the importance of having conversations, and getting expert legal advice, shouldn’t be ignored – if they are to protect the future of their families, their business and the livelihoods of those involved in it.

“At a time where the fragility of health and business is at the forefront of the news, I would urge the agricultural society to begin to have these forward-looking conversations at the earliest opportunity to ensure peace of mind and the safety of knowing those around them have a plan for the future.

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