Next-gen planning handed to children
Frank and Susan Shepperson knew that this particular family meeting would be different.
Instead of having the usual “state of the ranch” meeting with all four children and their spouses, they informed the group they were ready to retire and wanted to hand over everything but the kitchen sink and a few hundred cattle.
But there was one hitch: The couple left it up to all eight family business partners to decide what piece of the sprawling central Wyoming ranch they wanted.
“We told them they had to be 100% agreeable on everything: deeded land, buildings, equipment, water rights, mineral rights, BLM leases and state leases,” Shepperson says. “We told them we weren’t going to be involved in the process at all unless they had questions. We gave them each a map of the ranch, and told them that when they were finished negotiating, we would sign the paperwork.”
The only thing that didn’t go along with the deal was the home the couple had built on the ranch for their retirement, along with their share of the cattle herd. “Those cattle provide our retirement income,” says Shepperson, 73, who told his children and their spouses that they would each be responsible for taking care of a portion of his and Susie’s “retirement cattle,” and that they would help with chores and decision-making, but only when asked.
• Longtime Wyoming ranchers hand over reins to their children.
• Frank and Susie Shepperson taught children early to respect each other.
• They leave all decision-making up to the children and their spouses.
Respect the process
It was a moment the couple had been planning for since the 1980s, when they started expanding the historic ranch, which started near Midwest, Wyo., in 1903.
“Estate planning shouldn’t be hard as long as everyone can communicate, everyone knows what they’re looking for, and everyone is respectful of each other and the process,” Shepperson says.
That’s something Shepperson and his wife began teaching their children at a young age. This teaching continued when Lynn, Lisa, Les and Amy returned to the ranch between the late 1990s and late 2000s to become full-time partners after graduating from college and holding down jobs elsewhere, something the couple insisted that each child do to help ensure they truly followed their passion.
The Sheppersons were overjoyed when all four wanted to come back home, and that’s when the entire family continued to expand the ranch by taking out loans to purchase more land and cattle.
“One of the most important things is to give each person a sense of ownership and to celebrate successes and grow from failures,” Shepperson says. “Getting along is the main thing with a family operation. You need to learn how to forgive and how to work out differences, but you have to be patient in that process.”
When a problem would arise, he notes, “everyone would have a chance to share their opinions, but there would be no responses for a couple of days. Then we would get together and talk again, which worked very successfully for us.”
The expansion also worked well, as all four children and their spouses now have their own ranches on nearby land, which lets the family help each other year-round.
“Respect” was critical to the estate planning process, and it has also been critical to the success of the ranch, Shepperson says. “Everyone on our ranch is equal, but not everyone has equal abilities and the same interests. You have to respect each and every person for whom they are, not what they can or can’t do.”
This article published in the May, 2015 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2015.