Family Meetings Matter

Aging is our challenge and our privilege. Our friends or family are of great comfort as we get older, and yet we still may encounter obstacles. Family meetings are considered a major source of ongoing communication. While it is common to delay conversations and discuss wishes, the reality is that death or incapacity can come at any time. Estate Planning Family Meetings Being able to discuss your wishes while you are alive and well is essential to building better relationships. A discussion defining clear roles, responsibilities and expectations prevents heartache and litigation. For best results, the meeting should be calm, natural and candid, but with an agenda listing topics for discussion. Some families require a mediator which provides neutrality. While the subject of death is inferred in these gatherings, the estate plan discussion should be focused on the future. So, when families gather, there are basic questions that can be answered. Most often, denial, fear, lack of clear goals or just not knowing where to start are problems that can be avoided. A few items to consider:
  • What are obstacles that keep me from achieving these goals?
  • What are strategies to overcome each obstacle?
  • What factors have caused me to relapse in the past?
  • What can I do to address these factors in the future?
As an estate planning attorney, I find many clients sometimes delay, avoid or don’t understand the issues to discuss with their family members or beneficiaries. Others may not want to deal with possible disagreements or confrontation concerning their wishes, including allocation of assets, and “what if I get sick?” Some clients don’t prioritize talking about things that won’t matter to them after their demise anyway. It’s not difficult and it doesn’t need to be complicated. With careful consideration to the design of the estate plan, the peace of mind gained is immeasurable. When you enlist the support of the people that will help you be accountable to your goals, you make a commitment to the planning process so they can be encouraging and motivating to you on your journey. Having family conversations after the estate plan is in place can minimize potential challenges, resentment or contentious and expensive probate hearings upon death. The family meeting is a simple conversation to discuss your wishes, including how your estate will be administered and by whom. Most importantly, the plan can be changed at any time. An explanation of documents such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney and health care directives is essential “Estate Planning 101” and helps the family understand your wishes and the estate plan processes. Discussions might also include reasons for decisions, introduction of your trusted advisors, including your attorney or CPA, with whom the family members will communicate upon your death. This session(s) would also be a good time to provide contact information for your physicians, attorneys, accountants and financial advisors. The summary of assets includes financial accounts, such as checking, savings, investments, insurance, IRAs and annuities. Typically, you won’t need to detail the dollar or value amounts at this time, but it’s good to let your power of attorney (POA), and/or loved ones know where your assets are located. One of my clients calls this file the “sick or dead file.” Blended families, divorces, previous marriages, children, business ownership and other matters can complicate the estate planning process. If any of these factors are to be considered, they   should be discussed to make certain everyone involved has a clear understanding of how the estate plan is structured. On the other side, if your parents or grandparents are hesitant to have a meeting to discuss their estate, you can initiate the conversation. Especially if there are developing concerns of dementia, mental or health conditions that will limit their ability to make financial or other important decisions. Providing clarity to family and other beneficiaries regarding your intentions and addressing their expectations and documenting their understanding before you die is important. Failing to do so can lead to conflicts among parties involved, probate and the potential squandering of wealth that has taken you a lifetime to accumulate. Finally, take time to celebrate all of the small steps you achieved along the way. Taking small steps, being realistic, and staying positive will help you keep your intentions. Don’t delay. Family Meetings Matter! If we can help, please give us a call at 805-201-2552 or e-mail

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