What is in this article?:
- Ranch Families Share Their Estate Transfer Experiences
- Frank Shepperson
- Paul and Catherine Kukowski
- Rob Croft
- Tom Wright
Farm transfer from one generation to the next is a lengthy and sensitive endeavor in the best of circumstances. Too often, tales of losing the operation, or permanent family rifts, are the result. Ranching families share their lessons learned in transferring operations within the family.
Paul and Catherine Kukowski
The Kukowskis operate a Saler-based cow-calf and yearling operation headquartered southeast of Sheridan, on 20,000 deeded and leased acres in Wyoming and Montana. Yearlings are sold off grass in August, either on video or through their daughter, who buys for an order buyer. Both Paul and Catherine’s families have ranched for at least three generations; the couple moved from North Dakota to Wyoming in 1991.
“We operate with all of our real estate in an S corporation, and we each own 50%, and all our assets are owned 50/50,” Paul says. “All five of our kids were raised very independently, and they all left. They’re all in agriculture, and run the gamut within the industry, and we’re here alone running these cattle.
“Our thought process is to pass on a sustainable business, rather than ownership of the land. We’ve had the discussion with our children that each could receive a 20% share of the ranch.
“We posed the question this way: ‘Fast-forward 30 years, and say one of your daughters is running the ranch, and she has siblings. So, she’s sitting there, trying to run the ranch, but with maybe 20% control of 20%. How does that sound to you?’ They all thought maybe that wasn’t the best option long-term.
“So, at this point, we’re looking at creating a trust and, as they’re all individuals, they can build their own estates; that’s what we want them to do. We believe the real estate needs to be separate, and whoever is running the ranch needs to own the cattle and equipment. Then, they can buy land, and what we pass on becomes a steppingstone up. I like to think it will work for future generations,” Paul says.