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Reviving the Family Meeting

Family meetings can spark a renewed sense of harmony and understanding among your loved ones.

Remember back when your kids were young? Parenting gurus recommended family meetings as a way to stay connected, to keep one another in tune with your lives. Some families held them weekly, some less frequently, but over time, the meetings tended to fade away all together.

The thing is, family meetings serve a very important purpose: they’re a conduit to family unity. Reason enough to revive them. There will always be excuses, but if you lead by example, you may just spark a renewed sense of harmony and understanding among your loved ones.

Just Get Started

If rounding everyone up is a challenge, consider re-starting this tradition around a holiday, when most of your important family members may already be gathered around a table together. There might be a lull after all the festivities that will be conducive to truly meaningful conversations about health, wealth and hopes for the future.

Before you declare your intention to host a family gathering of a different sort, think through what you want to talk about. It helps to have a loose, yet thought-provoking, agenda that keeps everyone on track but also offers room for tangents, social interaction and even fun. Keep in mind, this first meeting is just to start the conversation. Let the others flow naturally from there.

Conversation Starters

So what should you talk about? The list is limitless, but whatever you decide, make sure it’s tailored to your family’s needs and interests. Some topics may be harder to talk about than others, but that just means they’re that much more important.

It may be nice to set the tone with a bit of family history, explaining how your family came together and the values that are part of your legacy. Younger generations often don’t understand what it took to build wealth in the first place. So tell the story. Share how your family’s wealth or business was built, what worked and what didn’t. Not only will the details create understanding, but hopefully, they’ll inspire the next generation to uphold what your family stands for and prepare them to be good stewards of family wealth.

Below are some more conversation suggestions, in no particular order.

Health and mobility concerns: Whether you’re the matriarch or patriarch or a concerned child, these very real issues should be addressed before they start taking a toll. Do you know who will take care of whom? And for how long? What renovations may need to be made? Who will need to be contacted? Share your wishes and listen to each other as you navigate this topic.

Intentions for family wealth: Develop a mission statement together so you all know what values you hope to promote through philanthropic endeavors.

The value of higher education: Family support can help the next generation reach their educational goals.

Potential business ventures or investment opportunities: One family member may be interested in stretching his or her entrepreneurial wings or investing in a growing business. Do you have the means to help, either financially or through introductions and networking?

Estate and legacy planning: You yourself may be uncomfortable talking about money, even with family, but the “you’ll know when I’m gone” stance may actually do a disservice to your heirs, who may be ill-prepared to serve as good stewards of your legacy and wealth. Talk about your wishes early and often.

Caregiving: Whether for a disabled, elderly or special needs family member, it’s vital to discuss how your loved one will be cared for and how to fund the care well before it’s needed. It’s important to proactively put plans in place while not under duress. Special needs trusts may be helpful, but you’ll need to choose a trustee and make some decisions as a family, addressing the financial, physical and emotional needs of the person who needs care

The importance of a job well done: Many families value hard work and integrity as antidotes to a sense of entitlement. Talk about it.

Points of transition: Family changes affect the conversation. How do you want to address changes in beneficiaries after births, marriages or divorces? We may all like our problems to be as easily resolved as they were on the “Brady Bunch,” but in reality, blended families can lead to uncomfortable discussions about inheritances within bloodlines, for stepchildren or for half-siblings. The point is to talk it through together and decide what makes the most sense for your situation.

Other issues may crop up, too: A ne’er-do-well cousin or one struggling with addiction may need an intervention or financial support. Determine where the line between enabling and support lies for your family and put a plan in place to protect and care for your family members – even if it means making difficult decisions.

An Invitation to the Table

Depending on the topic you choose, you may wish to delineate who should be at the table for the discussion. Very personal matters may need to be addressed with immediate family first. Eventually, you may want to invite the spouses and children into the conversation; then include your professional advisors to help you take action on follow-up items. The point here is to define for yourself who needs to know what and when they should be privy to the information. Sensitive subjects should be broached carefully in order to build consensus among decision makers.

As you invite the relevant players to the table, consider what role they’ll play. Is one more financially savvy, one the family historian, one more responsible than others? You may want to assign a different person to communicate with the family attorney, accountant or trustee; to update your financial advisor; to spearhead the family’s philanthropic endeavors; or to serve as the family educator.

TIP: Consider holding family meetings in neutral locations, such as an advisor’s office, a restaurant or hotel to help put everyone at ease.

Capitalize on each person’s skill set to keep the lines of communication open, lend a sense of accountability and keep everyone engaged during the meeting. You can always switch up the roles in subsequent get-togethers so no one feels unduly burdened or left out. Just be sure to always assign a family historian or secretary to keep track of action items and to document what decisions were made.

Open Minds, Open Arms, Open Discussions

Now comes the harder part. Actually having a purposeful discussion. It’s important to create a safe haven – a place where questions and concerns can be raised. A place where all voices will be heard. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to get along at all times or to assume every family member will be level-headed and pragmatic when making important decisions.

Discussions about money and family can be a volatile mix. Some families use money as a form of control, for example, engendering resentment and creating a divisive atmosphere – running counter to the point of a family meeting that is supposed to inspire unity and understanding. Expect and allow for the expression of emotion, to a point, then rein it back in so the meeting will be more effective. Of course, all families have their skeletons, black sheep or favored children, but everyone will appreciate an effort to keep the discussion forward-looking. Should your conversation remain heated, consider taking a break and regrouping later with a neutral third party – a family friend, a psychologist, your financial advisor or an estate attorney – to help referee the conversation.

For family harmony, be mindful, be respectful and come from a place of love.

Once order is restored, you can address the prickly issues. For example, say you own a successful business and are grooming your eldest to be your successor, how will your other children feel? How do you make things equitable among them? What if you have a child whose career hasn’t blossomed as much as those of your other children and needs financial assistance? How will you decide?

An open discussion can be very revealing as families let go of emotional baggage and come together to talk about what’s important to them, like the meaning of charity, family, community and the value of money. Create a space where your family will be willing to share their own views. You may just learn something new and find a sense of comfort when it comes time to pass the baton to the next generation.

A Living Practice

Re-establishing family meetings can reap benefits for any family. Carving out time – a commodity none of us has enough of – for one another fosters unity and understanding. Consider starting this tradition again, whether in person or via Skype, but remember to take it slowly. Aim to focus on just two to three major things a year and follow through. Not every issue needs to be addressed at once; it could be part of a years-long process centered on reconnecting – a living practice that becomes easier and more meaningful with time.

Content created by Raymond James for use by their Independent Advisors.

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