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Succession for the childless/childfree

 
Posts: 69
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A little bit of context for my care about succession. Also a warning of morbidity to this topic, but I think of it as the motivating kind of morbidity.

I came to forestry and permaculture from a philosophic background. Two principles caught my attention as really coming to life with permaculture:

1. Live in mutual benefit, contribute to the well-being of the sources of your well-being.

2. Leave it better than you found it.

I thought, "can I really grow useful stuff that makes my life better, while making the ground and ecosystem and myself better?" Sustainable forestry is a great example of just that. "Could I actually live in such a way that, should I simply disappear from it, the decay of my organizing and building and whatever will actually be seeds of even better conditions?" Well-done natural building and a life mostly free of toxic gick seems to lead in this direction; rather than one's shelter crumbling into toxicity or work for someone else or both, one's shelter could essentially turn into rich soil.

So, I'm working toward all that. Anyway, something that my mind gets stuck on sometimes is succession of all this. It's encouraging to know that what I'm building - homstead, farm, house, forests, community - will leave the world a better place when I'm gone. But I also have a yearning for the lighthouse to remain lit; for the ladder to stand sturdy; for the lifeboat to stay afloat. Of course things change, so it isn't so much 'remain', 'stand', and 'stay' so much as 'keep succeeding'. Forest succession. Right.

Thing is - at least so far - I don't intend to have kids. Adoption feels more rationally acceptable to me but intuitively an even worse idea than having kids of my own. I'm fairly comfortable with that, but it does trouble me when it comes to succession.

-

What is succession for the childless? I ask with specific situations of a farmer, homesteader, builder, forester, community steward in mind, but I also seek answers from any and all contexts, especially from non-human ones. How does one's lighthouse keep shining once one's gone?

Maybe this just emphasizes those two ethical principles I list above. Following those, even if I disappear and no human notices, the succession of life as a whole will be on a better trajectory from the work we'd done together. And then there are the remnants of one's life. I heard a story once that in some parts of the world there are 2 deaths: when your physical body dies, and when you are last remembered (both body and memory being breathing beings...until they're not). Maybe there's something to that, with some people 'immortalized' by their useful contributions to society by which society remembers them for centuries or millennia to come. When I think of it that way though, it's an awfully self-centered thing: yes it's great if one can contribute to the whole so well as to be remembered, but that's not really the point or goal or contributing well.

That said, lasting memories don't feel like satisfaction for the need to 'keep the torch burning'. If one puts in a ton of work over a lifetime into creating a wonderful symbiosis with nature where humans, trees, and many allies thrive together, ain't it a shame for that person to pass on and that system to be left in the hands of folks who might screw it up? If the trees took over, that'd be one thing, but realistically without a kid or meaningful successor in a will, the state and/or highest bidder will become the new land manager (for better or worse).

So I ask: what is succession for the childless? How to keep the momentum of a wonderful homestead, farm, forest going in the right direction?
 
R Spencer
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Two of the most practical solutions which come to mind are:

1) Community. This is a super important part of living a long fulfilling life anyway, and is also a very helpful key in living in mutual benefit with life itself. Building within good community, or growing good community around what one is building, sets the stage for good succession when one passes.

2) Conservation easements are a decent way to at least ensure the state/highest bidder let trees do some of the talking in the years after one's passing.
 
master pollinator
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My plan is to get a conservation easement attached to our place.  My husband wants to donate it to the Texas Ornithological Society as a birding site but we don't know yet if it will be useful for them.  They might  just want to sell it and use the proceeds to buy a better, birdier piece of land, which will be fine if there's a conservation easement to keep the next people from wrecking the place.  We hope to get the easement and donation on paper (deed and wills) in the next year or two.

If my husband predeceases me (which is statistically likely) my ideal would be to find some permies to live here with me in my olditude and will the place to them (with easement).

 
pollinator
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1) I'm pretty sure religion qualifies as the institutionalized attempt at what you're describing. All those silly rules are aimed at keeping people running on the straight and narrow even when there are no inspired geniuses showing the way. Religion does carry lots of other stuff along with it, but I think the attempt to pass on distilled cultural wisdom that's not obvious to young barbarians is one of the major reasons it keeps going the way it does. Because it impinges directly on the most energetic part of a person (I WANT that!... NO! Do _this_!) it's not particularly loved per se.

2) Most people have contact with quite a few others. There is usually the option of connecting with those younger (and/or much younger) than oneself.  What you're about can rub off.

3) Teaching, one way or another. For pay or in an organized fashion - or not either one. By teaching I mean actively attempting to pass on stuff directly to others sometimes many others.


Regards,
Rufus
 
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R Spencer wrote:
That said, lasting memories don't feel like satisfaction for the need to 'keep the torch burning'. If one puts in a ton of work over a lifetime into creating a wonderful symbiosis with nature where humans, trees, and many allies thrive together, ain't it a shame for that person to pass on and that system to be left in the hands of folks who might screw it up? If the trees took over, that'd be one thing, but realistically without a kid or meaningful successor in a will, the state and/or highest bidder will become the new land manager (for better or worse).

So I ask: what is succession for the childless? How to keep the momentum of a wonderful homestead, farm, forest going in the right direction?



First off, I don't think it is at all realistic to expect that biological children would make any difference with regard to the land being misused after your death (unless of course you are Amish and leave it to your farming offspring).

Regardless there are LOTS of other options other than the state! You could leave it to charity, you could do that conservation thing others have mentioned, if you live there the rest of your life you may want to have a "helper" or family on the property to keep up with things and assist you personally, and if that is the case you could leave it to them.

I will leave any assets to an animal charity and possibly a political charity, but I sure as hell would NEVER leave it to the state (or surviving relatives).
 
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I think having kids is very important, but on the other hand what you will pass in the next generation is 50% of you, then your kids will pass 25% of you, and with every generation all that keeps breaking in half, so you end up with lots of people having just tiny bits of you...exactly like what people around you have even now.
Its how nature works, it is the way it is, because thats what works, it will be silly to be unhappy with that system.
I think you should not be discouraged from making the right things, also you should not loose the meaning you have created for your life. We all play some role under the Sun, and all we have to strive for is being strong and doing the most we can, given that great gift existence is, the other option of wasting it is just inferior, thats all you have to keep in mind imo, that is what can keep you going, even if you cant find all the answers.
Even if someone buy your land, it will be someone that will appreciate your work, the one finding your land most valuable will be ready to give the most money for it.
We have no other option but having faith in the future generations.
 
pollinator
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Unless this is an imminent concern (in which case, I'm so sorry) you can use the time to find/train your successor within your own community!  start a gardening group, a permaculture MeetUp, a library seed exchange program, etc.
Ffrom within the community you grow out of mutual interest, I'm sure you'll find one or two young, driven folks who would love to carry on the work for you, "Apprentice becoming the Master"-style.  
 
garden master
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Oh man I think about this a lot. My wife and I don't have children and never will, and we're building this great little homestead that I wouldn't want to die after we move on. We're in our forties, and hopefully have many decades of homesteading ahead, but we have talked about this. If my nephew and nieces or their children one day don't have a sincere desire from the heart to live this lifestyle, we will give it away to some lucky young couple that probably hasn't even been born yet.

What I want to do is put my farm in an irrevocable trust, so whomever we give it to, has to in turn one day, give it away again to someone else. No one can "own" this farm and sell it, pocketing money from the sale to go live another life. There will be stipulations that must be adhered to, like it must always be a farm, always be chemical free, and soil health being first priority. Logging or the sale of standing timber forbidden, allowing the woods to grow and die at their natural pace. They'll be able to live a good life here for as long as they like, but must give it away just as it was given to them if they choose to leave.

R Spencer wrote:... but I also seek answers from any and all contexts, especially from non-human ones.



This made me smile, but I'm a terrestrial. I do hope that if we have any non-terrestrials here on permies, that they please chime in. I'm a believer. :)
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think a conservation easement will be easier and cheaper to set up than a trust.  I was just at the lawyer asking about trusts and he said they are expensive and difficult to administer and advised against them.



 
R Spencer
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Thanks for all the replies y'all! It's refreshing to hear insight from other permies.

Thankfully - as far as I can reasonably expect - this is not an imminent concern for me. Doing succession planning in advance will probably help smooth it out. Teaching and potentially lining up 'apprentices' are two wonderful options. I think ideally my partner and my permaculture efforts would be integrated into a hearty community before we pass on. The path from Now--->Ideal isn't so clear though, since we're likely to continue building roots outside of an established ecovillage for a while.

The little I know of trusts & conservation easements, I agree that easements are much easier and more straight forward. They can also be customized to your liking, e.g. "you can do forestry, but only of the measurable standard of __________ or better" sort of rules.

Lucrecia Anderson wrote:First off, I don't think it is at all realistic to expect that biological children would make any difference with regard to the land being misused after your death (unless of course you are Amish and leave it to your farming offspring).



Right. This is an important thing which disconnects "leaving a meaningful legacy of mutual benefit with nature" from "have kids". Kids can lead to that, but perhaps a carefully sought out inspired persons from the next generation can do so as well. Plus, having kids is a major endeavor in itself! No doubt a worthwhile one for some, but not for me for now. Anyway, we can save further debate of having kids or not for the cider press :P

James Freyr wrote:This made me smile, but I'm a terrestrial. I do hope that if we have any non-terrestrials here on permies, that they please chime in. I'm a believer. :)



Hah! By non-human I still meant other earthlings. I was wondering if there were any lessons about this we could learn from nature and how other organisms 'pass on the fruits of their labor' even if they don't have children. Sometimes analogous thinking applied to ecology offers great wisdom.
 
steward
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I have been an on and off again permie gardener since I was about 6 years old, without even knowing it.  My family and I have moved from place to place many times. Each new place would receive hours of work. Building new, better, bigger, gardens each time, only to be sold and to become a memory.

I guess that is why I feel that my work is only temporary and probably of little consequence in the big picture. My current work will also be sold at some point. At some point I probably will no longer be able to put in the work needed to start over. My kids have their own paths.

So my take is that if you do not need the money from a sale of the place and you want your work to go on, find someone who agrees with your view of it and give it to them. There are lots of young permie folks who would love to have their own place but may never get it on their own. Seems that the Woofing idea is the perfect one from which to find that person?
 
Rufus Laggren
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Tyler

> trusts

I am in the process dealing with this, so I will share a somewhat long comment. Trusts come in many forms and can do pretty much anything... Given:

- That the lawyer you work with actually _works_,  and does it _with_ you. You want somebody who actually works creatively in his field, not just mixes and matches boiler plates. Finding "good help" is always a challenge. Setup ballpark  runs $2500-5000.

- That you can pay the lawyer.

- That you can find trustees. This, believe it or not, is usually the really hard part because the functioning of a trust depends wholly on the trustee(s) and it's a seriously responsible position. There really s/b a "bench" of trustees at least two or three deep so if/when the "A team" goes away (for whatever reason) there is another to step in.


The ongoing expenses come in three flavors (not including setup):

- Actual operating expenses to support the goals of the trust.
- Administrative fees/expenses such as accounting and tax prep.
- Trustee payment (which is really just another admin fee).

Because a trustee is personally and fully liable for their actions, responsible trustees almost always choose to contract out administrative services because that takes care of CYA - if anybody questions it, they did the right thing and let a professional handle that stuff. The "beneficiary(s)" is the one who holds the trustee accountable and the way they do that, in the end, is to sue in court. Sometimes _potential_ beneficiaries are not happy with their lot and sue to break the trust. These scenarios are how trust lawyers justify their pay. Also, a well written trust reduces ambiguity and makes it a lot easier to administer.

Trustee payment can range from zero (responsible relative) to 1%-3% per year of the value of assets held in the trust for a corporate trustee. Corporate trustees justify their pay by reducing personal blame and in-fighting over contentious issues and making longer term successions relatively easy for the people involved.

Taxes are always a consideration, but don't necessarily add more expense.

An easement of some sort is probably the simplest and most cost effective way to put some controls on land.  But I would definitely try to pass all inheritance or gifts, including land, through a simple living trust. It makes things HUGELY easier for your executor if everything, essentially, that you own is already bundled and the distribution is laid out in the trust document. It keeps what's in the trust out of probate court; court can be fairly simple if the value and type of assets held in your own personal name can be kept small and simple. This doesn't eliminate a will - wills can make the probate proceedings fairly easy (there's always _some_ probate) and are  better for small stuff and personal statements of a non-binding sort. A living trust can convert, automatically, to a "family trust" which can continue on indefinitely, if that option is written in. This helps in the case where certain assets really won't get moved or changed much, just change hands. Again, it simplifies things for the executor. But you still need a trustee to handle the trust; it can be for a short time if they are instructed to distribute and then terminate the trust, but there does need to be one (again, with a 2nd and 3rd choice in case unforeseen things happen). But you want to appoint an executor anyway for your will and you need 2nd and 3rd's there also - so there's no avoiding some head scratching.  A living trust doesn't have to cost much if you can find a person willing to assume trustee duties for a small cost and it can save people a lot of trouble in difficult times.

Rufus
 
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I think that the PEP program currently in development has huge potential to eventually churn out the kinds of people that someone would be excited about willing their land to.
 
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My husband and I are childless by choice, and now that we are old, I just accept it that I will eventually die here, and our house and land will pass along to our nearest relatives who will almost certainly sell the property.  My belief is that the lives we have lived will exist forever in an infinite number of alternate variations, as quantum physics dictates, so what we have built will never disappear from the time/space continuum.  
 
R Spencer
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For the record, a similar thread on this topic with a lot of insight: https://permies.com/t/68762/biggest-concern-legacy-leave
 
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