Does your estate planning team know the playbook? Try a family meeting.
The family meeting communicates much more than just the details of your estate plan.
Your loved ones won’t talk with you about your estate plan, because if they do, there must be something wrong and you are going to die. With your estate planning you are diving into topics of life (and death) that most people don’t want to talk about. Even if you have a comprehensive estate plan in place, that plan is not complete until you have a family meeting. The legal documents are not the most important part of your estate plan. Estate plans don’t fail because of a problem with the documents. Usually, the most important part of your estate plan is your loved ones. Therefore, communicating the basics of your plan until they understand completely is key. The basics include your wishes and desires for them so they understand the why behind your plan.
Take advantage of a family meeting in order to learn how to fully inform your loved ones.
A family meeting is a time set aside for you and the people you care about to meet at Hammond Law Goup. The meeting takes place with one of our attorneys and the assistance of our paralegal team. The goal is for the team to meet and go over the basics of your estate plan. It happens at our office with some attending remotely.
But before we dive into the benefits of family meetings, let’s touch on why most people don’t have them:
We don’t think of meeting with our families about our estate plans (shouldn’t the documents tell them what they need to know?)
We all think we have more time (I’ll do it later …)
We don’t realize there are things we haven’t talked about (my loved ones know the things that are important to me, and I trust their judgment)
What’s at risk? What will happen if you don’t have a family meeting?
One of the situations we see most commonly is adult children or other beneficiaries fighting because they don’t like the way the plan is set up. Either they think they should be receiving more money or that they should have a bigger role in the administration of your estate.
Beneficiaries also fight because they believe the documents do not reflect their parents’ actual wishes. They may believe that another child or beneficiary pressured you to do things a certain way or has already received more than their fair share.
Usually what’s behind the fighting over an estate is that those involved are simply sad, angry, or afraid. They may be emotions that came up due to grief, or maybe they’re feelings that have been bubbling under the surface for a long time. The family meeting can help address these emotions long before conflict over assets starts.
Fighting happens in the best of families. It happens even when our clients were 100% sure that their children or other beneficiaries would never argue.
And these problems don’t only arise within traditional families. They can happen amongst your loved ones no matter how you’re related. If you’re in a blended family clear communication is even more vital.
Having a family meeting ahead of time will not avoid every problem or emotion. What it will do is enable your loved ones to hear directly from you. Fewer surprises and less opportunity for conflict over your wishes make it easier for your loved ones to trust that your documents reflect what you intended.
The first part of the family meeting conveys practical aspects of your plan to the different players in attendance.
A family meeting first addresses the practical issues. Who are the trustees and beneficiaries? What kind of end-of-life decisions do you want. This is a good time to discuss the way your estate is set up (and why), where to find your documents, passwords, and list of advisors, your financial goals for your beneficiaries after you’re gone, and any wishes related to your personal property. Your successor trustees will be reminded of their role the expectations. Beneficiaries will learn about their inheritance (in detail or more generally).
This practical part of the meeting invites your loved ones and other players crucial to your estate plan to understand the basic mechanics of the plan.
The second part of the family meeting addresses the fundamentals behind your plan. How does your estate plan support the legacy you want?
During this part of the meeting, you’ll also touch on relational topics as well as the practical. Here is a chance to paint the picture in person of what you want for your loved ones after you’re gone. It is also a chance to live up to the values that you aspire to. This is a great place for closing open relational loops with apologies and forgiveness. This is the place where you can finally say what you’ve been meaning to say. Really seeing and hearing each other, making space for the whole person that is each family member, can dramatically change relationships for the better. The family meeting is a place to clear the land for more appropriate growth and better relationships.
The family meeting works well together with a few educational opportunities for our clients. Every year we offer a number of courses. Attend these courses before, during, and after your family meeting. Your estate plan and your aspirations for the remainder of your life are a work in progress. Take some time to become the family you have always hoped for.
As a client you have access to dozens of workshops that support your family meeting and help protect a successful estate plan and legacy:
- Understanding Your Estate Plan – The MUST attend workshop for new estate planning clients to deepen their awareness of the tools and players involved in a successful plan.
- Letters of Intent – The legal documents can’t always explain your overall plan. Learn how to write your letter of intent to guide your successor trustees.
- Legacy Letter Writing – A personal letter to each of your beneficiaries may heal and inspire. Don’t neglect writing them.
- Trustee School – Send your successor trustees back to school to learn their roles and responsibilities as trustees.
The best way to take your loved ones from confusion, misunderstanding, and resentment to clarity and harmony is consistent, clear communication during your lifetime, before you pass away.
Workshops to help you keep your plan current:
Further Reading — Estate Planning and the Family Meeting: