Congratulations! You have inked all the paperwork involved in a rock-solid estate plan! Is it all done? Not so fast – there is one more thing to consider. This month we are going to take a look at the idea of a Family Meeting. What is it? Why would you want to have one? How to know if it is a good idea for you and your family?
A Family Meeting is where you explain your plans to your adult children, extended family and important friends. It is an opportunity to explain the thinking behind your intended distribution of assets. You may also want to help them understand the role you are asking them to play in that process and in turn, they can have any questions answered. A family meeting is a perfect time to review your end-of-life wishes, should you become ill or die and field any questions about those choices. The family meeting is a great way to make your wishes abundantly clear.
Things to Remember for Your Family Meeting
- A Family Meeting is a great way to clarify your wishes, prevent misunderstandings, confusion and hurt feelings down the road.
- Include your estate planning attorney and financial advisor in this meeting. This is your team and a Family Meeting is the perfect way to introduce everyone. Having these professionals there makes efficient use of everyone’s time – they can explain the intricacies of your plan, elaborate on why certain decisions were made and field the tough, legal questions.
- This meeting gives your estate plan every opportunity to succeed and be easily executed. This is especially important with complex plans and sizable estates or when a family business is involved.
- Plan to succeed and start with a well-planned agenda. Remember to allow plenty of time for open discussion and Q&A.
- Bring tissues!
Where to Start
Choose a convenient date. Check with those involved and find a time that works for everyone. Steer clear of holidays. While the family may be gathered, holidays are already emotionally charged. Best to choose a date and time free from other influences.
Know who is coming. This is an adults-only meeting. To minimize distractions and maintain everyone’s focus, make arrangements for young children to be cared for somewhere other than where the meeting is held. Cell phones set to vibrate and perhaps even checked at the door. This is a participatory meeting and you will want everyone to be present. Phones are an easy way for people to mentally check out and distract themselves at a time when they really need to be present– no phones.
Select an appropriate location. Find one that sets the tone for the serious nature of this meeting – quiet, comfortable and with a low level of distraction. Ask your estate planning attorney if there is a conference room at her office that you could use. Make sure the chairs are comfortable, that any physical limitations of those in attendance are accommodated – restrooms close by to minimize disruption. Take breaks as needed and offer water, coffee, tea and non-sugar snacks. Opt for fruit, nuts and yogurt over soda and candy and avoid sugar crashes
Set start-time/end-time and share agenda. Plan for a two-hour meeting with a 30minute buffer in case you need a longer break or two or the questions really start flying. Be clear about the start-time and end-time, and discuss, with your attorney, the wisdom of sharing the meeting agenda ahead of the meeting – each case may be different.
Set the Agenda
When setting the agenda for a Family Meeting, consider your objectives and create a list of the topics you want to cover. Keep things general. This is not the time to disclose specific financial information – it is about bringing your family up to speed with what you have in place. Begin with the end of the meeting in mind and think about your desired outcome – how will YOU know this meeting has been a success?
Set an intention for the meeting and state it clearly at the top of the agenda. Feelings are bound to arise and it may get emotional. Remember, a Family Meeting is not a corporate business meeting. Your family will need to feel heard and supported – after all, they do not want to think about a day when you will be gone. Encourage questions, expect emotion and accommodate anxiety – keep in mind that for some, this is really tough stuff.
If there are difficult topics, get them out there in the open. If you are afraid to bring it up, that’s likely an indication that you should. Ask your Trust & Estate Lawyer or your Financial Advisor to weigh-in; they have insight into family dynamics in situations like this that only comes with experience.
Is a Family Meeting for Me?
The Family Meeting is especially good for families where:
- There are one or more members who may disagree with one another. Settle disagreements ahead of time by focusing on what you want;
- You want your family business to be distributed to the one or more of several children that are working in the business;
- The family members desire an explanation of the estate plan and what to expect after your death;
- You wish to give clear instructions about health care and end of life decisions;
- You wish to give clear instructions about the disposition of your remains.
This blog contains general information and is not meant to apply to a specific situation. Please seek advice of counsel before proceeding as each case is unique.