Holding a Family Meeting

Your plan for your property’s future won’t work if your family can’t put it into action. That’s why it’s important to involve them early on.

The first step is talking about your plan, and that’s where family meetings play a critical role. 

Your family meetings can be as formal or informal as you like, and every family will handle them differently.  But there are some time-tested tips that can help make your meetings successful.

When? Don’t put off the meeting, no matter how daunting it seems. The best time to start your estate planning process is now. But avoid family celebrations, such as birthdays or holidays, if you can—there’s no need to compound the difficulty of initiating these discussions with the stresses and traditions of a special occasion.

Who? Decide on the guests in advance. Are you including spouses? Professional advisors involved in managing your property? A counselor or mediators to moderate the discussion? Err on the side of inclusiveness, inviting all those you think may be affected by your plans. If conflict exists between two guests, make an effort to resolve the issue before the family meeting.

Where? If at all possible, gather in person. Face-to-face meetings will set the precedent for working together in a connected way. Choose a place where everyone will feel comfortable. If you can, hold the meeting on or near your land, so each family member can see it and reflect on what it means to them. If your home or the land are not neutral sites, opt for a restaurant or hotel conference room with no emotional significance to your family. The new setting will take your family members out of their routines and make it so no one has “home court advantage” during discussions.

How? Begin by collecting all the information you have about your land, in case questions arise during the meeting. Other helpful tips:

  • Prepare an agenda detailing what you’ll discuss at the meeting and make sure everyone gets a copy in advance. Welcome your family’s questions and suggestions for the meeting.
  • Don’t have any surprises at the meeting.
  • Set the rules first.  Make sure everyone understands how you will proceed and how decisions will be made before the meeting.
  • Appoint a recorder to take minutes. Write down what you discuss and decide, so everyone can have a record of what took place.
  • Start with your values. Consider starting the meeting by sharing why your land is important to you, and asking everyone in the room to do the same. There is no “right” answer.
  • Be frank about finances. Your family members can’t help you plan for the future if they don’t understand your present situation.
  • Focus on the future. Remember your purpose is to find common ground and a shared vision for the future, not to revisit the conflicts of the past. Even when discussing difficult issues, try to keep the conversation open, respectful and positive.
  • Make sure to follow up. Give your guests to-do lists if needed, and let them know about actions and tangible results that came out of your meeting.

Including your family in the planning process can help you make more informed choices and it can secure greater buy-in from them. And it all starts with healthy communication.

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