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Does my family owned Montana farm need a lawyer?

It goes without saying that Montana farm owners regularly face legal questions on a wide range of issues from land use and water rights, to loans and mortgages, to business and tax filings. The farm itself may be held by a family partnership or a corporation, and individual family members may consult lawyers about their rights and roles in the family-owned business.

Many families who own farms in Montana (and elsewhere) find it helpful and cost-effective to have a primary lawyer or law firm handle their regular legal and tax issues. The central benefit is this: your lawyer or law firm becomes familiar with your farm operation, your family, and the nature of your business, in order to efficiently advise you on a range of matters as they come up. Ideally, your lawyer will be experienced in each area of the law that commonly touches on your farm operation: business law, real estate law, tax and financial law and, particularly in the case of family farms, estate planning. Expertise in each of these areas allows your lawyer to coordinate your legal and financial needs as well as to jointly plan for the future of your farm and your family members. This kind of coordination should cut your costs for professional fees, give you peace of mind, and let you focus on why you're doing it all in the first place: farming and family.

Is there a standard shareholder agreement for closely-held Montana businesses?

Unlike mandatory documents like bylaws or articles of incorporation, shareholder agreements are not technically required by Montana law. But shareholder agreements can be very beneficial for small corporations, and often include a number of common features. For example, they can: specify what happens in the event of the death or retirement of a shareholder; create rights and obligations for buying and selling shares; and give shareholders rights to approve any new shareholders. Although shareholder agreements may have some content in common, each agreement is unique to the shareholders who form it.

Shareholder agreements can be particularly helpful for small and family-owned businesses because they clearly set out duties and rights - ideally avoiding confusion or disagreement among families and close business associates. They can also be coordinated with estate planning documents, allowing families to smoothly determine business succession in the event that a family-member shareholder becomes ill or dies.

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