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Thoughts on Estate Planning – Holding a Family Meeting

In previous articles and podcasts, we’ve spoken about the importance of such things as, completing a will, choosing an executor for your estate, and naming a power of attorney. But have you considered the importance of letting your family know about your plans and decisions? Talking to your children about your plans for death or illness doesn’t necessarily feel right, but it could make a huge difference later on.

Families who embrace this process will often hold one, or a series of periodic, family meetings. The idea is that family meetings allow parents and their heirs to open up and communicate with one another about their wishes, feelings, and concerns, well in advance of the day when those plans must unfortunately, yet ultimately be acted on.

A family meeting provides parents with an opportunity to:

  • Let their wishes be known, and explain their rationale for their decisions
  • Provide clarity on topics that are often difficult to discuss (ex. what happens if long term care is needed?)
  • Ensure all family members are included and not just executors and powers of attorney
  • Reduce the risk of family disagreements or feuds down the road because potential issues have been respectfully discussed in advance

Some of the topics that could be put on the agenda of your family meeting might be:

  • Naming the Executor(s) for the will. This person(s) will have a lot of responsibility. This is an opportunity to explain the importance of their role1, while explaining to other children why they may not have been chosen.
  • Naming Powers of Attorney. Should you become incapacitated in some way, you’ll want someone to look after things. The person you’re naming as power of attorney should be aware of their responsibilities, and this is a good place to talk about them.2
  • Discussing your “advance directive”. These are important instructions for individuals that are usually written directly into your power of attorney for personal care. They typically cover special medical circumstances where, either through accident or illness, there is no possibility for future recovery.
  • Your plans for the family business. This is an extremely important discussion, especially where there are multiple children. In these cases, it is not uncommon for one of the siblings to be actively involved in the business, while others are not. Discussions about plans for succession and its effect on the whole family become crucial to reduce or eliminate conflict down the road.
  • Issues regarding first/second marriages.
  • How the remainder of your assets (investments, vacation property, precious heirlooms, art, furniture, etc.) are to be shared or distributed.
  • Your charitable wishes.
  • Your wishes for your funeral
  • Any other items which are important to you.

Who should be invited to attend the family meeting?

Typically, your children would be invited to attend this meeting; however, it is often common to invite their spouses as well. Spouses bring a different dynamic to the meeting, and they may have views that either the parent’s didn’t know about, or their children were reluctant to express. If these views express reservations over certain issues, this is an opportunity to listen and talk about them (and even make changes if that is desirable) respectfully with one another. Regardless, it reduces the likelihood of the issue being raised after the fact, when nothing can be done about it. Depending on the circumstances, it might also make sense to invite grandchildren (will depend on age and involvement), or other professionals who could add clarity on complex issues (like the succession of a business)

Where should you hold it your family meeting?

If you feel most comfortable around the kitchen table or in the living room, perhaps that suits your family best. If you’d like to make it formal, you could consider the neutral board room of a person you’d like to help you facilitate the discussion. Alternatively, because the topics you’ll be discussing are quite serious, perhaps you want to consider a family retreat style approach. Your agenda might involve meeting in a boardroom for the formal portion of the discussion, followed up with something fun (ex. a round of golf, a fancy dinner, or a night at the theatre).

Bringing in a facilitator

Saying you’re going to have a family meeting is one thing, but it would not seem like a stretch to most people to imagine a family meeting getting off its agenda and potentially missing the mark. Depending on your family dynamic, the temptation to not be serious, to argue and bicker, or to simply go silent are all predictable challenges that could arise in a family discussion.

A facilitator could really help to keep this process on track and ensure that everybody has a voice, while ensuring that all discussions remain respectful. Consider how bringing Gary Koss into your family meeting might really help. Gary’s years of experience working with clients and managing employees make him uniquely qualified to:

  • Provide and objective middle ground while facilitating discussion
  • Help you to avoid getting stuck on complex areas like tax, finance, investments, etc.
  • See where a discussion is becoming unproductive, and then step back and reset the agenda.
  • Set a professional, yet fun and relaxed environment

Conclusion

At the end of the day, holding a family meeting is about communication. Your wishes for your estate are your business, and your heirs are going to understand that. At the same time, if you want to reduce conflict among your heirs, and ensure that your wishes are achieved, a family meeting will ensure that everyone knows where they stand and the role they have to play. It will eliminate future surprises.

Should you have any questions about holding a family meeting or if you’d like to talk to Gary about facilitating yours, we urge you to call us at 780 426 2400 or e-mail us at administration@lgkwealth.ca.

 

1 See our article entitled Choosing Your Executor

For more information on powers of attorney, please see our May 5th, 2017 article entitled “Power of Attorney – Who Should be Chosen” or our June 9th, 2017 podcast entitled “Selecting a Power of Attorney”.

Call 1-780-426-2400