Since the loss of her husband, Maggie Van Camp has been encouraging others to ensure their farm and personal plans are in order.
Can you tell me a bit about your personal situation and what happened?
My husband, Brian Van Camp, died two years ago in a farm accident involving a loader while spreading potash. I was 46 years old, had three teenage children and owned a 100-acre farm with a big old farmhouse. We had 23,000 chickens in the barn and shares in my husband’s family’s dairy and crop farm. Brian worked full-time on his family’s farm and had expanded to 1,200 acres of corn, wheat, soybeans and adzuki beans. They also milk about 120 cows. I worked part-time as associate editor with Country Guide and had been happily married for 21 years.
I think many farms still don’t value everyone’s contribution when considering life insurance.
Suddenly, I was a widow and all these blessings, all that we had worked so hard to achieve, became overwhelming. One thing I tell people is to not underestimate grief and do not overestimate you or your family’s ability to function when someone dies or has an accident.
Preplanning gave us time and choices. Lots of women wouldn’t have chosen to keep farming and that’s just a personal choice. For me, it would have been harder to move away, to give up on the dream of farming that my husband and I shared.
Did you find that you had to scramble for the necessary information and contacts after your spouse passed?
From the time we bought our farm in 2000, I managed the chicken part of our operation so I already knew many of the professionals and people who serviced this farm.
After my husband died, I continued to do chores. It was important for me to keep things as normal as possible and chore time was time by myself and I needed that time alone to cry.
We didn’t have standard operating procedures but we do now. Using those SOPs this past spring, I hired and trained a local chicken farmer to manage our barn so I could go back to work for the magazine.
I continue to use Brian’s cellphone contact list. Make sure someone on your farm knows the password to your cellphone and computer. When my son went to plant corn for the first time, one of the hardest parts was Brian was the only person who knew the password to the GPS.
In many ways, especially for the businesses, we were well organized. We had a business plan and had gone through some succession planning with his family.
I’m so glad we had the support of our community, our family and our friends. At first, shock made it nearly impossible for me to think clearly.
If it had been the other way around, would your spouse have had all the relevant information in the case of your absence?
I think my husband would have had difficulty going through all the paperwork; it took so much time. Not only was I changing his personal papers (passports, licenses, etc.) but I was also the executor of his will and switching over two businesses.
He would have needed to hire someone to take care of the farm’s paperwork and do daily chores. He would have also needed a cook, cleaner, a bookkeeper, yard maintenance and a taxi driver for our children. Over many years of marriage and business partnership we split the duties to operate as efficiently as possible.
My husband wouldn’t have known the PIN number to some of our bank accounts and my online trading accounts, including our children’s RESP. Like me, he wouldn’t have known our insurance policies off the top of his head.
I think many farms still don’t value everyone’s contribution when considering life insurance. Right from the beginning of our farming career, we had equal amounts of term life insurance on both of us.
What specifically is your advice to farm families?
First, all the owners of the farm, even if they don’t have children, should have a will including a power of attorney. They should review it every five years and someone else should know where a copy is filed.
Second, someone else – a spouse, children, partners – should know the people who service and keep your farm running.
If you can, with sole proprietorships, assets should be in joint ownership and accounts under two names. If someone dies, you shouldn’t change the name on the bank account right away as cheques will come in under one spouse’s name. Everyone should have their own personal bank account and credit card.
Whatever your farm’s business structure, whether it’s a corporation, partnership or joint venture, have a written agreement including what will happen if one of the four D’s occurs – disability, divorce, disagreement or death. Having a specific written pathway to follow after my husband’s death was a gift. I cannot imagine how long and miserable this would have been without a funded, well-written buy-sell agreement.
Complete your “Because I love you” lists and get your businesses in order. And remember that no matter what happens in life, you should never give up on happiness.
Maggie Van Camp (@maggievancamp) is CEO of Redcrest Farms, raising about 25,000 broilers, and an 80-acre cropping operation growing corn, wheat and soybeans near Blackstock, Ont. She is associate editor with Country Guide and holds a science degree in agriculture from the University of Guelph.