Part 1 of our Succession Planning Series

Nationally, the average age of farmers and ranchers is increasing and a growing number of properties are in transition from one generation to the next. Organizations like Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) are leading the conversation of keeping working lands healthy as this transition occurs. 

According to the United States Department of Agriculture census data, the average age of farmers and ranchers exceeded 58 years of age for the first time in 2012. (2017 USDA NASS Census of Agriculture data has not yet been released.)

Average Age of Principal Operator

Source: USDA NASS, 2012 Census of Agriculture

Succession planning is one of the aspects of aging land operators and properties nearing transition. Preparing for land succession often takes years worth of time and requires the expert assistance of tax accountants and lawyers.

Several universities across the country offer great resources for land succession planning. We suggest you consult with your state university extension service to see what free estate planning resources exist in your area. 

The Ohio State University has developed a number of resources that can be applied to lands across the country including those in the American West. Their factsheet Planning for the Successful Transition of your Agricultural Business focuses on the general question, "Do I want to pass my farm operation to my heirs as an ongoing business or do I want to pass it on as a group of assets?" The Getting Your Farm & Family Affairs in Order worksheet published by the university is a tool that came recommended by WLA member Tuda Crews of Ute Creek Cattle Company

Oregon State University developed a program called the Ties to the Land Initiative. The program, which is specific to woodland owners, addresses communication, emotional and legal aspects of succession planning. Offered across many states, the program includes DVD-based content for workshop presenters and a workbook to help guide woodland owners through the succession planning process.


The Ag Legacy program, an effort of University of Wyoming Extension, works to assist rural families in creating their own legacy by beginning the thought process and opening the lines of communication related to succession planning. The program consists of a series of online modules related to communication, transferring management skills, and end of life planning. These are paired with related newsletters, bulletins, and other instructional materials.


Montana State University Extension approaches estate planning from dual angles of family goals and business goals. They offer a large number of publications, webinars, videos, and worksheets on a wide variety of topics associated with land succession. They also host events across the state throughout the year - for a full list, check their event calendar


Earlier this year, WLA facilitated a conversation around many of the components and considerations in approaching land succession planning. Over the next several blog posts, we will dive into topics featured at the WLA conference including: the use of an operating foundation as one method of creative estate planning; specific land donation case studiessuccession planning and governance; innovative ownership structure to allow for maximum flexibility; and ways to keep future generations engaged in farm operations and stewardship initiatives.