Farm Advice: Use the summer to make a plan

By: John Sheddan, director, Sheddan Pritchard Law Ltd

Lawyer John Sheddan offers some advice around wills, EPAs, and insurance

Wow, what a year!  2020 has been a year that has just kept giving — fires, floods, road disasters, a landslide general election and, of course, COVID-19.  It’s clear that our world has changed in all sorts of ways, and that we must be prepared to change with it.


This year has tested the resilience and the patience of all New Zealanders and our communities. Yet, for the most part, in New Zealand we’ve managed to remain insulated from the personal tragedies that have plagued the rest of the world. You do not have to look far, however, to find friends, colleagues, or acquaintances who’ve been personally affected by the unfolding world events of 2020. We’ve truly become a global village.

Make a plan

Events that unfolded this year resulted in many businesses invoking their disaster recovery plans or, for those less prepared, developing one rapidly and implementing it. These sorts of plans are similarly important for individuals and families. 

Legally, there are certain key documents that every adult should have prepared in the event that something happens to you or someone who is close to you. It’s not essential that these documents are prepared. If you don’t do so, however, it will leave uncertainty, additional grief, and cost to those who are likely already to be devastated. Similarly, individuals should also have a plan –of which these documents form part. The plan details what happens in the event of something bad occurring.

Have a will

The first, and most important document, is your will. This doesn’t have to be an exhaustive thesis; at its simplest, you appoint someone to tidy your affairs, deal with your property, and distribute the balance to those you’ve chosen.

Not having a will can create a mess!  If you die without a will, application must be made to the High Court to appoint someone to administer your affairs. This person then collects and pays any debts and distributes the balance as detailed by a formula set in law. The distribution is almost guaranteed to be not what you expect or would choose, and it’s certain that your spouse or partner will not get everything they think they would.

Creating a will is very straightforward. It doesn’t mean you have to consider your own death but, rather, who collects your stuff, pays off your debts, and who gets the balance. You can also have some fun and leave things to people who would never expect it – "What am I going to do with a goat?" 

Your will doesn’t have to cover everything you own or every eventuality. Just getting your initial will completed by your lawyer (and signed and witnessed) that covers the basics is sufficient. From there, you can fine-tune with your lawyer and your will evolves naturally.
If you already have a will, you should review this every five years or so to ensure it’s up-to-date and reflects your current financial and personal situations.

Enduring Powers of Attorney (EPAs)

EPAs cover situations where, due to events such as becoming seriously unwell, you cannot make decisions for yourself and someone else needs to step in. Prepared by your lawyer, there are two types of EPAs:

  1. Personal care and welfare that looks after health matters, and
  2. Property for pretty much everything else.

Those are your basic legals covered; your plan is starting to take shape. 
Both your will and EPAs are kept at your lawyer’s office; keep copies of them somewhere safe.


Next to consider is insurance – house, contents, car, life, business, and so on. This is a specialist area and is one faced with constant change and challenge. These insurance policies should be reviewed each time you renew for the following 12 months.

Digital arena

In this highly digital world – what are your passwords, logins, digital accounts, and photo storage locations? Where do you keep those passwords, digital storage accounts – iPhone, Google, email accounts, Facebook, Instagram, Discord, MyIR, internet banking, and so on. Clear records are important and most details are now locked in phones or laptops that are likely password protected and possibly encrypted. You should entrust the location of these passwords and other login details to one other person and/or have them available in hard copy in your planning file.


Day-to-day stuff

Finally, what happens to your day job, your business, your farm, stock, or pets?  Who will care for them, take control, feed, and support in the event you become seriously unwell or after you die? Visualise the situation as of right now – who collects the kids, moves the stock, cares for parents, or pays tomorrow’s bills?

Farmers and contractors are particularly at risk if there’s no plan. If you’re in hospital by the end of today, who is managing the farm or your business until you return – presuming you are able to do so? 

A clear plan and provisions in place, even roughly fleshed out as a guide, will suffice in the short-term. As was shown this year with COVID-19, many plans were implemented or developed on the fly – even by the government!  Fortunately, most people were around to deal with the events of this year themselves. Next time, however, we may not be so lucky.

Use the summer to make your plan

Hopefully, this summer will be a chance to unwind, recharge, and regroup. 

It’s also important to give some thought to your plan — either creating it, updating your plan if you have one, or fleshing it out further to widen its scope. But most importantly, write down your plan and let others know where it is!

I wish all Farm Trader readers a Merry Christmas, and keep in mind Jacinda’s quote for 2020 "be kind".  2020 has been a wild ride for many, so look out for your family, friends, and neighbours.

Information given in this column should not be a substitute for legal advice.

John Sheddan is a director of Gore law firm, Sheddan Pritchard Law Ltd. He specialises in rural and commercial issues involving rural and residential property sales, business sales, leases, subdivisions, and helping families to plan for the succession of businesses and family farms to future generations.

Sheddan Pritchard Law Ltd is a member of NZ LAW Limited, an association of 54 independent law firms practising in more than 80 locations.

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