Patrick K. Costello
Attorney at Law

Recognitions and Awards

Minnesota State Bar Association Gives Patrick Costello

Lifetime Achievement Award


LAKEFIELD, Minnesota, August 1, 2019 – At its annual convention on June 27, 2019, in Prior Lake, the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) recognized Patrick Costello of Lakefield with its most prestigious award: the Lifetime Achievement Award. This award is presented to an experienced member of the State Bar who has continually displayed commitment and contributions to the Bar, the legal profession, and the public throughout their career.  The recipient must be well respected in the legal community for integrity, competence, career achievement, and service.


In presenting the award, Paul Godfrey, president of the MSBA, listed Costello’s community service but stated that his leadership roles in the State Bar were much too varied and extensive to recite. Emphasized was his love for Lakefield and his national recognition in agricultural law and estate tax matters.


Costello’s professional accomplishments are many. He is best known for developing a concept for the donation of farmland to charities; with the charities retaining the land and receiving farm rent in perpetuity. Foundations across the country are using his unique model. Just in Southwest Minnesota, assets preserved this way are estimated to be worth over thirty million dollars, with annual distributions to various worthy causes of more than one million dollars.

Highlights of his career include being the only lawyer in Minnesota with a rural law practice elected as a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, an organization of the nation’s top credentialed trust and probate lawyers. The American Agricultural Law Association elected him as their president in 2014. He serves on the MSBA Assembly, which is the group’s governing body, and as a trustee of the Minnesota State Bar Foundation. Governor Dayton appointed him a director of the state Center for Rural Policy and Development. Costello has taught and written articles about farm succession, estate taxation, animal law, and agricultural topics. He has received awards for distinguished service to the legal profession, excellence in agricultural law, and aid to philanthropic causes.


Costello was born and raised in Lakefield, Minnesota. He is a graduate of Hamline University and Creighton University, School of Law. In his law practice, he represents individuals, businesses, and nonprofit organizations in transactions and dispute resolution. He is a partner in the Costello, Carlson, Butzon & Schmit law firm. With offices in Jackson, Lakefield, and Heron Lake, the firm has operated continuously since 1887 and is Minnesota’s 8th oldest law firm.


The Minnesota State Bar Association, formed in 1883, is a voluntary bar association with a membership of 15,548 lawyers and judges. 


Attorneys of the Year: Patrick K. Costello

By: Scott Carlson February 14, 2019

For more than 40 years, attorney Patrick Costello has been a business stalwart on Main Street in Lakefield, a town of 1,700 people in southwestern Minnesota.

“I think rural towns shouldn’t be abandoned by professionals,” said Costello, a partner at Costello, Carlson, Butzon & Schmit LLP, whose roots date back to 1887. “Lawyers really do add value to the life of rural society.”

That’s been especially true in Jackson County since 2004 when a philanthropic model Costello promoted for many years for public charities to help keep farmland in active production became legal. The 2004 state law repealed the prohibition on foundations owning farmland and enabled farmers to donate their properties and perpetuate them as ongoing, working farms.

Subsequently, Costello helped the Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) develop policies “that would allow us to accept and keep farmland,” said Liz Cheney, the nonprofit’s director of philanthropy.

Over the years, Costello said his law firm has coordinated the transfer of up to 10 farms totaling about 1,650 acres to SWIF, which is renting them to farmers. Costello’s idea has caught on elsewhere.

“More than a dozen other community foundations across the country have used Pat’s philanthropic model to preserve our rural way of life,” according to a SWIF brochure.

Costello has left other marks on the legal profession. He is nationally known in taxation, estate planning, business planning, and agricultural law circles.

He is a past president of the American Agricultural Law Association and received the AALA Excellence in Agricultural Law Award in 2012.

Costello honored as Attorney of the Year

Written By: Julie Buntjer | Mar 16th, 2019   Worthington Globe

Patrick Costello was recently honored as Minnesota Lawyer's 2018 Attorney of the Year for Outstanding Service to the Profession. 

LAKEFIELD - Patrick Costello, a senior partner in Costello, Carlson, Butzon & Schmit LLP in Lakefield, was recently honored by Minnesota Lawyer as one of its 2018 Attorneys of the Year. Costello was singled out for Outstanding Service to the Profession for his integral role in changing Minnesota law to allow charitable organizations to own farmland. The law change in 2004 resulted in the formation of the Southwest Initiative Foundation’s Keep It Growing program.

The program makes it possible for individuals, most often those without descendants or little connection to distant relatives, to donate their farmland to the foundation. Doing so allows the landowner’s tenants to continue to farm the land, while knowing the rental income generated will benefit others.

Costello dedicated about 30 years of his career to seeing his idea become a reality, and it’s all because he made a promise to a client who wanted to know his farm would be cared for.

“The client (Frank J. Zaher) asked me to keep his farm and to use his income for charitable works - to lighten people’s load and do some good in the world,” recalled Costello earlier this week. Zaher was a bachelor farmer in Minneota Township, Jackson County.

“I started by going to the Southwest Initiative Foundation almost from the very beginning,” Costello said. “I said I had this great idea, but it’s not permitted under Minnesota law.”

Eventually, the law changed, and soon thereafter, SWIF established Keep It Growing. Today, the program has received 1,730 acres of farmland through eight separate gifts.

Serving in a rural law office, Costello has assisted numerous clients in making plans for their farmland and said most choose to wait until after their death to have the farm transferred, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

They may opt to give their farm to the charitable organization while living, and retain the revenues the land generates until their death. Costello said the program provides the landowner with a tax deduction, and it also eliminates the estate tax.

He estimates there will be hundreds of more acres enrolled in Keep It Growing during the next 20 years.

“More farmers have estate plans - they do love their farms more than their distant relatives,” he said.

SWIF isn’t the only one offering a way for farmers to donate their land to perpetuate charitable giving. Costello has visited four other initiative foundations and spoken to similar organizations in South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa.

In each case, the donor can specify where they would like the income to go. Through Keep It Growing, individuals may choose a specific organization or have the funds placed in an unrestricted endowment of the foundation.

“SWIF has a lot of small community foundations that they’re the parent of,” Costello said, noting one example where an individual has specified all proceeds from farmland rent must go to the Heron Lake-Okabena Community Foundation.

Costello, who was a bachelor for 55 years, said when he began introducing the idea to some of the single farmers, he was surprised by how quickly they embraced the idea.

“It’s been great fun, giving away money,” he added.

Costello was nominated for the Attorney of the Year title by SWIF, the organization that honored him in 2016 for his work with Keep It Growing. Back then, SWIF CEO Diana Anderson shared, “Pat has helped define what community philanthropy means in southwest Minnesota. He understood before anyone that the generational transfer of wealth could see millions of dollars leave the region as it passed to heirs or charities outside of our region.

“His vision for community foundations to keep and manage farmland has been the single most important charitable innovation in our history … and perhaps in all of rural philanthropy.”

Costello accepted his award during a Feb. 13 ceremony and was joined by his wife, Marcy, and SWIF’s Anderson.

A native of Lakefield, Costello grew up in his father’s Main Street pharmacy. He was in the sixth grade when he decided he wanted to become a lawyer.

At the time, Judge Holtan had an office above the bank in Lakefield, and Costello knew that his job was to give advice to people. It sounded like a good career to him.

Costello went on to attend Hamline University and Creighton University School of Law. He returned to Lakefield and joined the law firm of Muir, Lundblad, Meyer, Storey, Stier and Simons in 1977, which is now known as Costello, Carlson, Butzon & Schmit LLP.

“I’ve always felt very much that this is where I belong,” Costello said of returning to his hometown to practice law. “I think that it’s really the best choice I ever made.”

Costello’s career in law spans more than 40 years, during which his work has focused on estate and business planning, agricultural law and taxation. He is a past president of the American Agricultural Law Association and is a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. He also serves as a trustee for several private charitable foundations and is a director for the Minnesota State Bar Foundation.