CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Discussing topics such estate planning and mental health may not be comfortable for family members, but are essential.
Liz Hulsizer of Galesburg shared her own personal and professional experiences on the topics as part of a panel discussion at the Illinois Soybean Association’s recent Soybean Summit.
Hulsizer and her husband, Matt, are both fifth-generation farmers and grow corn and soybeans on the family farm in Knox County.
Following college, she became a grain merchandiser with ADM and then went into banking for a time, where she was involved with trusts and estates, financial planning, and farm management. She has since returned to ADM as a grain merchandiser.
“We need mental health to be acceptable and we need it accessible.”— Liz Hulsizer, fifth-generation farmer
Two life-changing experiences led her and her husband to become advocates for both estate planning and mental health.
“In 2013, my father-in-law committed suicide in October during harvest and since then my husband and I have worked very hard to try and break the stigma of mental illness,” she said.
“My dad passed away in 2016 from cancer and after that we combined farming operations with my brother, and so it’s my brother and my husband working together. Like most of you, we are constantly trying to figure how to make family and farming work, keeping things separate, but also together.
“Mental health, financial planning and marketing are where my passions lie.”
After her father’s cancer diagnosis, Hulsizer’s parents made the necessary estate plans, including funeral plans, trust plans and a will.
“So, when my dad passed away we were able to grieve. The other death was not the case and so without that estate planning in place, instead of us grieving, we were meeting with bankers, we were meeting with loan officers, trying to figure out what was going on, what are we doing, who has title of what. It is so important that you take the time and do it,” she said.
Having worked in trusts and estates in the banking industry, Hulsizer has seen the best and worst in people when it comes to inheritance.
“A lot of people would say, ‘I don’t care what happens when I die. I’m gone. Who cares?’ That’s a fine way to think, but at the end of the day, you have to think about your family you’re leaving behind. It is so important to lay out a map for them so they have the time to grieve,” she said.
“Also, you don’t want your children fighting. You don’t want people trying to take land that isn’t theirs.”
The estate tax in Illinois kicks in at $4 million and the federal level is $12.9 million.
“If you have 300 acres valued at $13,000 per acre give or take where you’re from, you’re already over that $4 million mark. What that means is once you hit $4 million and a dollar, that dollar and on is going to be taxed,” Hulsizer noted.
“So, let’s say you have 400 acres, you’re now at $5 million and that $1 million is going to be taxed out of your estate before it can go to whoever you’re leaving it to.
“Do you want your children, your siblings, whoever, to have to take a loan to pay that tax on ground you’ve already bought? No, but I’ve seen it happen.
“I’ve seen where grandparents never thought their land would ever be worth more than it was and then $10,000 an acre land prices came and we started looking at having to pay taxes on estates that I’ve sat through and instead of trying to sell a farm to pay the tax all of the grandchildren had to take loans to pay those taxes.
“It’s not something the grandparents wanted and sad to think the land was paid off and now we have to pay taxes on it.”
Regardless of the value of an estate, it is still important to have a will.
“If you die without a will in Illinois, the state decides what happens with your money, and I know what they do with our taxes and we’re not a fan of that. So, it’s very important that you have a will to make sure that what you want happens,” Hulsizer continued.
“I had a family come in when I was working in the trust world where the dad died in a farm accident without a will, and how the state of Illinois divides it is 50% goes to your spouse and then the rest goes down to your children.
“So, now you have a spouse who is used to 100% of the income from the farm now down to 50% and children who are now grown with their own money each getting a percentage.
“But now you have a spouse who is not taken care of because she was used to 100% and now gets 50%. Now you have children who might not be doing what you want them to do with the farm making decisions that the spouse has no control over.
“Having a plan, having conversations, is not fun. Nobody likes talking about dying, but it’s a service, it’s an act of love for your family that you’re leaving behind.
“You want your family to be able to grieve and process what’s happened. You don’t want them sitting in meetings trying to figure our where the titles of land is.”
The Hulsizers serve on the Farm Family Resource Initiative that’s led by the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development.
The purpose of the state-funded initiative is to provide a range of resources, including a helpline to assist with farmer- and farm-related issues that include mental and physical health needs.
Additionally, the initiative offers ongoing outreach, education and training to rural clients and partners working to improve the health and safety of farm families.
The service includes a phone number — 833-327-6767 — that connects with a counselor for help. Funding by the Illinois legislature provides six free counseling sessions for farmers.
“My father-in-law committed suicide during the fall, October 2013, and with that comes a lot of emotions, a lot of grieving and not a normal way, but also with that has really kind of shown a light on mental health in rural America for me and my husband,” Hulsizer said.
“What we’ve realized is that we need mental health to be acceptable and we need it accessible.
“We collectively in this room are all long-term multi-generational farmers. For instance, this year we planted our 145th crop on our farm. It’s been 145 years that my family has gone through the Great Depression, wars, the 1980s, and every time they have come out of it and the farm has gone on.
“And so you get to this multigenerational time and you’re thinking, ‘I can’t be the one to lose it. How can I be the one to lose it when they’ve all gone through something worse?’ — and that puts a lot of pressure on all of us, whether you’re in your 60s or younger.
“It’s just so important to know that there is not farm without the farmer. Dirt isn’t worth your life, but getting people to talk about their mental health as if they were talking about a diagnosis is something we really have to change.
“When my dad was sick with cancer he would have paid $1 million to have a pill that could help him be better. We have the resources. We have medicine to help if you’re struggling. We have therapists, counselors, we now thank goodness have online resources where you can sit in your tractor and talk with a counselor on your phone.
“You don’t have to leave the farm and you’re able to get your counseling sessions in to help with your mental health.”
Hulsizer said when someone is diagnosed with an illness, the neighbors come together and help them by bringing food or helping them with work on the farm. The same should be done for those who are struggling with mental health.
“It’s a hard topic, but we have to have a breakthrough somewhere. It’s important that we break those barriers down and that we not only have accessibility in rural America, but we make it acceptable to talk about it, and that starts with everyone in this room being able to say I’m not OK or checking on your neighbor who you think might not be OK,” she said.
“For accessibility, there are so many outlets now where before where my husband and I live we would have had to drive an hour or more to get to a counselor who maybe understood farming. Now we can scroll through online and find someone who matches what we may need. You can do it from your tractor. The excuses go away and you’re getting the help you need.
“There are outlets out there, but it alls starts with us making it not a weird topic to talk about because I can say I have been on the end of the suicide and the problems that you think you have don’t go away when you do. They go on to someone else and nothing is worth you life.
“So, if you have ground that you’re paying so much rent over here and you’re losing on it and you’re making money on this other ground, get rid of the ground you’re losing money on. Treat it as a business. This is a business. Stop the pride. Stop trying to farm more, have more equipment, all of that. Take care of yourself first, and everything else falls into place.”