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Ag forum draws crowd

With all the changes in Minnesota state tax law that take effect on Jan. 1, estate planning has become more critical for farmers than ever before.

That was the crux of the message that Pemberton Law attorney Charlie Seuntjens delivered at Thursday’s Agricultural Issues Forum in Callaway.

“You’re either going to have an estate plan by design, or by default,” Seuntjens said.

It’s also important to remember to update that plan every four or five years, or after a “significant life event” such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child or the death of a spouse or child.

Though the state estate tax doesn’t apply to estates that are worth less than $1 million, a person’s estate includes not just land, but also CDs, checking accounts, and yes, even life insurance policies.

“They all count as part of your estate,” Seuntjens said.

In addition, the price of ag land “has really appreciated over the past 10 years,” he said, which means that the net worth of a person’s estate might top that $1 million mark more easily than they expect.

The biggest problem with this is that while “the balance sheet might say we’re millionaires,” Seuntjens said, having that cash available to pay off a steep estate tax bill could be a bit problematic — especially when that tax bill is due nine months after the person’s death.

Furthermore, as both Seuntjens and accountant Clayton Schott noted, a person whose estate is valued near that $1 million mark might be more heavily taxed than someone whose estate is worth much more, due to the way the new tax laws are structured.

Schott also noted that there are “55 different (Minnesota) tax laws that expire on Dec. 31,” so it’s important to take a close look at those changes when filing your 2014 return — or to take it to a professional who can do it for you.

Also at Thursday’s forum, there was some discussion of the pros and cons of establishing a tax on exporting gravel outside of Becker County.

As County Commissioner John Okeson pointed out, the gravel located within the county’s borders is an important resource, and “once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

When the county no longer has its own gravel available for road projects, they will be paying a lot more to bring it in from other sources, he added.

“We shouldn’t be giving it away,” agreed Callaway farmer Jerome Flottemesch, who was one of the attendees at the forum that spoke up in favor of the tax.

State Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston), who was the only legislator in attendance at the forum, said that while he is against the implementation of new taxes on principle, he would be willing to listen to a proposal for imposing a gravel tax if they could present a convincing argument.

The forum also included presentations on the Becker County 4-H program, by County 4-H Coordinator Kari Sayer; changes at the Becker County Soil and Water Conservation District and Natural Resource Conservation Service, presented by NRCS District Conservationist Ed Museliewicz, SWCD Administrator Peter Mead and SWCD Ag Inspector/ Shoreland Specialist Marsha Watland; and various ongoing corn and soybean promotional projects in the region, by Callaway farmer Karolyn Zurn.

About 30 people were in attendance at Thursday’s forum, which was hosted by the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Agri-Business Committee, with support from Bekkerus Schott Deconcini Johnson Ltd.; Cenex Community Cooperative of Lake Park; Pemberton Law Firm-Detroit Lakes Office; Wild Rice Electric Cooperative of Mahnomen; Harvest States Cooperative of Callaway; West Central Agriculture of Ulen; and the Becker-Mahnomen Corn & Soybean Association.

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Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454