Should You Schedule A Family Meeting?

Sometimes our older clients ask us if they should hold a family meeting to educate their child or children about the family’s financial and estate plans. We think this is a great opportunity for clients to also talk to their family members about their legacy and values, and traditions they’d like to see continued. We recently received this email from one of our clients who just completed a very successful family meeting.

“As you know, we had our ‘First Smith Family Meeting’ last weekend. Our three kids flew in Friday afternoon/evening, worked all day Saturday following the agenda (prepared and distributed in advance), and flew home to their own families on Sunday morning. It was honestly one of the most wonderful, intimate, and deeply satisfying events of our lives. I think it made John and me so happy to see our children grown with families of their own and to see them living productive lives. It was also a great relief to finally share all the details of our financial life and our estate plans with them. And it was unbelievably satisfying to hear their remarks on the family values they felt came from John and me and that they wanted to pass on to their children.
“We followed an agenda and each one of them received a notebook summary to take home. Judy, our eldest daughter, was our scribe and took notes that included some ‘to do’ items, some questions, and some small changes to the estate plans. It really helped having an agenda with times for various parts of the discussion. 
“In the morning we reviewed the financial and estate plans, which took longer than planned, but everyone was glad we took the time necessary to understand the details of the estate plan: our trust, our wills, the power of attorney, and the health care directives. 
“The afternoon was mainly spent going through the house identifying any items of monetary or sentimental value, showing where we kept our paper files, and discussing the location of our digital files and passwords. The kids ended up taking down a couple of boxes filled with photographs as well as all their old school folders (report cards, essays, artwork, etc.) and had a lot of laughs over who had better grades. 
“At 5 p.m. we went back to the den for wine and cheese and talked about family values, which was quite the tearjerker. We had a great steak dinner in the dining room that evening–good china, silver, the works–and the kids just kept talking about things from our past they wanted to understand better. 
“I am so happy we had this family meeting and did not wait for this opportunity until a time of crisis. While it is hard to talk about losing your parents, dealing with serious issues of aging, and discussing housing and health care options, we are glad we started the conversation! As you can tell from this email, I am happy, pleased, and deeply satisfied.”

While we have seen some very successful family meetings, these typically occur when all family members get along fairly well. If this is not the case, or if there are members of the family with addiction or mental health issues, you might consider having separate meetings for the parents and each of the siblings or hiring a professional to assist with the meeting.

If you have any questions about the family meeting process, we’re here to help provide some direction.