Where should you meet? What should you discuss? Who should be there? Consider these suggestions.
Estate planning is more than just sharing wealth – it also includes the passing down of your family’s values and history to the next generation. And while selecting the right financial strategies is crucial to ensure your family’s long-term well-being, it’s just as important to prepare your loved ones for the responsibilities of managing the wealth they’re set to inherit.
One of the best ways to start this preparation is by hosting a family meeting to have an open conversation about your family’s unique situation, needs and goals. Here’s a guide to get you started.
When and Where Should You Meet?
If you and your loved ones live near each other, picking the time and place for your family meeting may be as straightforward as inviting them over for an extended dinner. However, if everyone is spread out, finding a time to get together may take more planning. Do you have a family reunion coming up? Consider tacking on a day to your vacation to talk about the future and your wishes.
When choosing your meeting location, think about where everyone will feel most comfortable. Perhaps it’s somewhere familiar like your home or a more formal setting like your financial advisor’s office. Maybe you’d prefer someplace completely neutral like a hotel or an intimate restaurant or coffee shop.
Who Should You Invite?
This may depend on what you plan to discuss. Very personal matters may need to be addressed with immediate family first. Eventually, you may want to invite in-laws and grandchildren into the conversation; then include your professional advisors to help you take action on follow-up items. Sensitive subjects should be broached carefully in order to build consensus among decision makers.
As you invite the relevant players to the table, consider what role they’ll play. Is one more financially savvy, one the family historian, one more responsible than others? You may want to assign a different person to communicate with the family attorney, accountant or trustee; to update your financial advisor; to spearhead the family’s philanthropic endeavors; and to serve as the family educator. Capitalize on each person’s skill set to keep the lines of communication open, lend a sense of accountability and keep everyone engaged during the meetings. You can always switch up the roles in subsequent get-togethers so no one feels unduly burdened or left out. Consider assigning a family secretary to keep track of action items and to document what decisions were made.
What Should You Talk About?
There’s a wide range of topics you may wish to cover with your family. Some may be harder to talk about than others, but that just means they’re that much more important. Here are a few ideas to get the conversation flowing:
- The importance of a job well done. Many families value hard work and integrity as antidotes to a sense of entitlement.
- Intentions for your family wealth. Develop a mission statement together so you all know what values you hope to promote through philanthropic endeavors.
- The value of higher education. Family support can help the next generation reach their educational goals.
- Potential investment opportunities. One family member may be interested in stretching his or her entrepreneurial wings or investing in a growing business. Do you have the means to help, either financially or through introductions and networking?
- Business plans. If you’re a business owner, have you planned for the succession of your business once you retire? How might your family or children play a role in that transition?
- Health, mobility and caregiving concerns. Whether you’re the matriarch or patriarch or a concerned son or daughter, these very real issues should be addressed before they start taking a toll. Who will take care of whom, and for how long? Where will you live? What renovations may need to be made? Share your wishes and listen to each other as you navigate this topic.
- Points of transition. Family changes affect the conversation. How do you want to address survivors or changes in beneficiaries after births, marriages or divorces? What about inheritances for children, stepchildren or half-siblings? While these discussions can be uncomfortable, it’s important to talk through them together and decide what makes the most sense for your family’s situation.
When Should You Reconvene?
Like the other aspects of planning a family meeting, this depends on your family’s unique situation. You may find you need one or two longer meetings to get going, followed by shorter gatherings held semiannually or annually. Or perhaps you’d prefer casual but regular meetings held monthly or bimonthly. After your initial conversation, you may be better able to gauge what will work best for you and your loved ones.