The Importance of a Family Meeting

Peter K. HooverJune 24, 2016

family meeting Financial Planning

Families meet for many reasons. Birthdays. Holidays. Reunions. Special occasions or merely because they like being together. However, joining for an event specifically designated as a family meeting is less frequent. Yet, it is one of the most important gatherings a family can have.


Fans of the television show Blue Bloods enjoy watching the multi-generational family dinners. The fictional Reagans also hold family meetings when important issues pop up. We believe family meetings should be scheduled before there are issues and while all generations are still active. HFA recently held a Lunch & Learn seminar on this subject, which was a big success. Some of our guests have already scheduled family meetings. The recording and slides used during the presentation are available at the bottom of this article for those who were not able to attend!

A family meeting should be designed to map out what you want to happen in the future. Possible reasons for a family meeting include:

  • Promote Stewardship, which is the responsible oversight and protection of something worth caring for and preserving.
  • Share values as well as estate and financial plans.
  • Embrace the challenge to discuss thoughtful planning and its impact on family members.
  • Perpetuate a family legacy.
  • Discuss multi-generational planning.
  • Judiciously communicate details when all generations are still living.
  • Prepare heirs for future roles and responsibilities.
  • Establish a forum for collaborative decisions.
  • Educate heirs on financial literacy or estate planning.
  • Create an atmosphere of trust.
  • Open lines of communication that may have closed.
  • Establish family leadership roles and responsibilities.

There are four common types of family meeting. The first involves a conversation concerning wealth and values. The second is a discussion about ownership and inheritance. Type number three delves into the future of the family enterprise and four covers difficult issues and conflicts. Again, HFA advises having family meetings to prevent difficulty and conflict, although some crises cannot be avoided. If bad things do happen, previous family meetings may have enabled members to be more prepared.

Family meetings featuring estate transfer are by far the most typical. Statistics indicate that $59 trillion will transfer from 93.6 million American estates over the next 50 years. It is expected that a little more than half of that sum will transfer directly to Generation X (those born from 1965 to 1982) and Millennials, who were born between 1980 and 2000. Research also shows that 70% of family money disappears by the end of the second generation and 90% is gone by the end of the third.

The very typical problem of unintended asset distribution often occurs because there is no will. In a recent survey conducted by Rocket Lawyer, 57% questioned admitted they hadn’t gotten around to making a will. While 22% felt the need wasn’t urgent, 17% insisted they didn’t need a will. Fourteen percent hadn’t prepared one because they preferred not to think about death.

Chances are very good this kind of inheritance dissipation can be circumvented if families meet, communicate, plan and agree. The best time to launch one or more family meetings is when beneficiaries are in their mid-20s. Optimistically, transparency and less uncertainty will result. It isn’t about the frequency of meetings, but importance of content and impact of subject matter the gathering creates.

In addition to coming to a mutual understanding of financial legacies, there are other essential bequests. An emotional inheritance is the sum of a family’s values, its stories, life lessons and family traditions. Highlights may be favorite recipes handed down over generations or tales of ancestors’ adventures. Family members could record these treasures as written or oral histories. Together they can create a heritage statement, which describes what the family believes in and what it stands for. This is neither a will nor a contract, but a philosophy future generations can use to draw strength, meaning and guidance during difficult times. It is a statement of true legacy, which defines the family.

When all participants are ready to hold the first (perhaps only, if appropriate) family meeting, prepare an agenda and distribute it in advance. Here are some noteworthy agenda ideas:

  • Define wealth and inheritance – assets, liabilities, insurance, real estate.
  • Family Legacy – what your family is known for and the values it holds dear.
  • Family role and responsibility assignments.
  • Beneficiary education.
  • Shared philanthropy considerations, such as selected charity agreement and family agreement on philanthropy in general.
  • Education of children, grandchildren, great grandchildren.
  • Possible sources of family dissention, such as prenuptial agreements, divorce, extravagant or reckless spending, older parent healthcare and cost.
  • Family history awareness and issues.
  • Mission statement defining core values, collective goals, personal attributes and other nuggets deeply associated with the family.
  • Genealogy research and family tree creation.

If all goes well, the family meeting(s) will result in renewed energy to become more organized. All generations represented should walk away with a list of tasks to make things easier on the next generation. the list could entail:

  • Close unwanted or unnecessary credit cards.
  • Consolidate and simplify investment accounts.
  • Minimize the number of bank accounts.
  • Get rid of unnecessary documents.
  • Discard all old life insurance policies.
  • Locate deed to house, other properties and title to car(s).
  • Make sure all documents are updated and in good order.
  • Review beneficiary designations on IRA, 401K plans and life insurance policies.
  • Review ownership of assets and determine joint assets versus individual ownership.
  • Understand survivor pension options.
  • Talk with an attorney about real estate owned in other states or countries.

Though often difficult, it is crucial to cover certain subjects when all family members are together. Discussing touchy matters may actually prevent greater pain in the future. Family meetings should address:

  • Estate fiduciaries.
  • Final plans desired by each family member such as: burial, cremation, funeral director, grave site, military honor, organ donation.
  • Location of safe deposit box and its key.
  • Location in home of fireproof box of papers and family treasures or the creation of such a box.
  • Location of estate documents and insurance policies.
  • Items of personal property and value of each family member.
  • Creation of financial inventory checklist.
  • Passwords for anything that has a password.
  • Contacts for existing advisors: insurance, investments, attorney(s), financial planner.
  • Establishment of a just in case binder where all documents will be stored.

A good family meeting, like a productive educational class, includes homework. Yours should be no different. The Personal Financial Inventory should be completed by all family members. It can be sent out in advance of the meeting or included on the agenda as a handout. Once complete, all members should have copies.

Just about now you may be experiencing contradictory emotions and family meeting overload. One part of you is excited and ready to schedule a family meeting as soon as possible. The other side is worried about the process. There are keys to organizing and conducting a successful family meeting. Here are a few tips:

  • Obtain input from all family members in advance.
  • Prepare meeting agenda and set a time limit in advance.
  • Determine inclusion of a third party, such as an estate planner, financial planner, trust officer or professional facilitator.
  • Establish who is going to facilitate the meeting if a professional is not hired.
  • Determine which family members to invite.
  • Set ground rules for conduct.
  • As a family member, be punctual and ready to listen.
  • Assign someone the duty of taking minutes, which will be recorded and distributed to all in attendance.
  • Avoid the temptation to cover everything or too much in one meeting.

There is a lot to absorb here, but one message to take away from this blog is: Planning for the future of money is not the same as planning for the future of the family. Those who do consciously prepare their family for impending financial and emotional inheritances are among the successful 10%.

HFA is happy to help you plan a well-organized, beneficial family meeting. We can strategize and formulate with you in advance and/or participate in the meeting. We look forward to working with you and your family.


Sources for this blog include: Wells Fargo online magazine; Bessemer Trust Company; A Handbook for Conducting Effective Multigenerational Family Meetings about Business and Wealth; Family Busines:PwC; and Rocket Lawyer.