The Family Meeting – Some Thoughts and Ideas

It is not uncommon for my clients to list family harmony or some variation of that idea as their number one priority in estate planning or family business succession planning. Therefore, when meeting with clients I emphasize the fact that the plan is not just about them. It is also about those that will be left to deal with and implement the plan. If we attempt to dictate the plan or veil it under a shroud of secrecy it will be more prone to fail and cause discord. I am a strong advocate of the family meeting. In his book Counseling with our Councils, M. Russell Ballard writes: “Like other councils, the family council can be a positive, causative force in [our] lives. It can bring order to the home, provide a forum for soothing hurt feelings, give parents an important tool with which to combat outside influences, and create an opportunity to teach . . . .” The family meeting or family council can be a great forum for working through the tough decisions that sound planning require.When holding a family meeting or family council, some thought should go into preparing for the meeting. I was reading an article recently that gave ten tips for holding a family meeting. Here are a handful:

  1. Keep it positive.

  2. Encourage participation, but don’t try to control it.

  3. Be creative with the location and setting of the meeting.

  4. Have an agenda.

  5. Get outside help if needed.

In his book The Personal MBA, Josh Kaufman teaches about the “golden trifecta.” The golden trifecta are: appreciation, courtesy, and respect. In our interactions with others, especially in a family meeting setting, we must remember to treat each person with appreciation, courtesy and respect. If we do so, each person will feel safe to share his/her ideas and concerns. Family meetings where communications are governed by the golden trifecta will lead to better planning and stronger families.The law has a variety of tools that can be used in creating the estate plan or family business succession plan. Qualified advisors should know how to use those tools in creating your plan. The family meeting is an opportunity to create a unified vision of how the family would like to see things work. Armed with that information the advisory team can use the right tools to work toward that vision.