THE FAMILY MEETING: A KEY TO EFFECTIVE ESTATE PLANNING

coryBy Cory Howes

Estate planning is usually a little difficult. You have to consider challenges you’ll face in life, and ultimately, we gather to contemplate what happens upon your death. When you wrap up the process of putting a plan in place, you think you’re finished with the dirty work. But that isn’t the case.

Even when you’ve made the hard decisions, your documents are signed, your trust is funded, and a business succession plan is in place, your work isn’t done. Next comes what can be an equally difficult task, informing your family of your plans and decisions. Will they understand your wishes? More important still, will they know what to do if you become sick, incapacitated, or if you die?

The answers to all of these questions lie in the execution of a family meeting, where your plans are explained. A well-run family meeting will help prevent misunderstandings and confusion in the future, which is an important benefit for executing a comprehensive plan in the first place. First, you should ask your estate planning attorney and financial advisor to participate in your family meeting. These professionals will able to explain all the technical ways that your plan works and help you explain how and why key decisions were made during your planning process. The attorney and financial advisor will be ready and able to answer family members’ questions right on the spot. Furthermore, this meeting will serve as an introduction to the key advisors your family will work with directly in your future absence, creating an effective working relationship.

While having an open discussion is of paramount importance, you need to have an agenda to keep the family meeting on track. The meeting agenda should cover your objectives, purposes, plans, and expected outcomes, as well as how those outcomes affect each participant. These meetings often become emotional for some or all of the participants, so keeping a topic list handy will help you to be comprehensive and leave nothing out.

Keep in mind that no specific financial information or values of assets needs to be disclosed during this meeting, which is more of a general explanation of what you have planned and why. Again, the goal is to prepare your family members for what they can expect to happen or need to make happen themselves in the event that you become disabled or die. To that end, make sure you don’t do all of the talking; leave your family members with ample time to discuss your needs and ask clarifying questions.

You should expect anxiety from your family, particularly as the meeting begins. These are sensitive issues of life and death, not small talk. However, discussing these circumstances and determinations openly often leads to better understanding and avoids conflict among your family members after you are gone.

Finally, make sure you have your family meeting at an appropriate place and time. Have the meeting in a private setting that promotes openness and honesty, as well as the seriousness of the meeting. Be sure to select a date that’s convenient for everyone, and be careful about having meetings on holidays or special days for the family. Let everyone know in advance about the meeting place, time, and agenda, so that people can prepare to discuss these serious, important topics. And please limit the meeting to adults—making arrangements for young children will allow those parents to give their full attention.

Estate planning tackles hard questions, but the Forrest Firm can at least make your problem-solving process easier. Email me today to learn more about involving your family in an effective estate planning process.