Along with warmer weather and lazy days spent at a pool, summertime also often includes a family gathering, such as a Fourth of July barbecue, a family vacation, a reunion, or time spent at a family cabin or lake house. Whatever the form, in our always-on-the-go society, getting the whole family together is a rare occurrence. Consider taking advantage of this time together to discuss your estate and financial wishes with your family by including a family meeting in your family gathering.
What Should You Talk About in a Family Meeting?
Although there is no right or wrong answer to this question, a family meeting could cover the following topics:
- Who you have appointed as your trusted decision makers. You can let your family members know who you have selected to be your executor or personal representative, successor trustee, and agents under financial and medical power of attorneys. You may also consider explaining the reasons why you have chosen these people to act in these roles.
- What your end-of-life wishes are. People sometimes select a healthcare agent to act on their behalf but then never discuss with that agent their end-of-life wishes. This puts the agent in the uncomfortable position of trying to guess what the person would have wanted or being presented for the first time with the person's wishes in an advance directive or living will in a moment of crisis. Expressing your end-of-life wishes in a family meeting helps ensure that everyone is on the same page when the time comes for decisions to be made on your behalf.
- What specific tangible personal property family members want. A family meeting can be a great opportunity for family members to express their hope of receiving certain items of tangible personal property, such as furniture, jewelry, art, and vehicles. We are often surprised to learn the items that family members have emotional attachments to. For example, your daughter may wish to have the platter you always used to serve the Thanksgiving turkey. The family meeting is a great forum to express these wishes.
- Who will receive certain tangible personal property and why. Along with family members expressing their wishes to receive certain items of tangible personal property, a family meeting is the perfect opportunity for you to express who you wish to receive certain pieces of tangible personal property and why. Particularly if multiple people want the same item (such as Grandma's wedding ring), a family meeting can be a great time to discuss who should receive the item and why. Family members are more likely to respect your wishes if you make them known, and future disputes can be avoided. You can even pass on some of the items at the family gathering so you can witness the joy that the gift brings your loved one.
Use the Family Meeting to Create a Family History
The topics discussed in a family meeting do not have to be limited to issues related to your estate and financial plans. A family meeting is also a great time to reminisce about favorite family memories. Hearing family members share their favorite memories and seeing the sparks of recollection in others is a lot of fun and can be the best part of a family meeting.
Because family legacy is about more than just money and property, we recommend video recording or having someone take notes about the memories shared so the information will be kept for future reference for all family members. A family history like this is often the most cherished family possession.
Invite Your Trusted Advisor to Conduct the Family Meeting
If you are hesitant about having a family meeting because you do not feel that you have the skill set or an adequate level of knowledge to explain the sometimes complicated legal or financial concepts involved in your plans, consider asking your trusted advisor to conduct the family meeting. After all, it is one thing to understand a concept when it is explained to you and quite another to try and explain the concept to someone else.
You may also feel uncertain about how your family will react to the estate and financial plans you have made. Having your advisor, an unrelated and objective party, there to explain your plans and their benefits and answer any questions or concerns that your family members may have can remove some of the emotional upset and criticism that could emerge.
Summertime is a common time for families to get together. Take advantage of this time to discuss your estate and financial wishes with your family in a family meeting. Communicating your plans to your family now, while you are alive and able to answer any questions or concerns family members may have, greatly increases the likelihood of your plan working as it was designed. We would be happy to help you organize a family meeting or even conduct it for you, so please give us a call if you would like to include a family meeting as part of your family's summer gathering.