Experience with Family Meetings - Paul Manders
This week we did an online client presentation with Tom Deans, the author of Willing Wisdom. Thank you to everyone that attended as it was our first attempt at this scale of a virtual event. The technology seemed to hold up well and the insights from Tom were quite good. We will be doing more of these chats and will look to improve the process each time as we may be in this current scenario for some time.
The feedback from those who were able to listen in has been great. We have received a lot of feedback and questions on the idea of regular family meetings, which act as a forum for parents to communicate estate planning and financial details to their children. We have had some experience helping to facilitate some family meetings and I have done it myself for our family with our 4th meeting coming up this month.
I thought I would share some thoughts about our family meetings, but keep in mind that no two families are alike so there is no perfect way to do them. This is what has worked for us:
- We always include a meal. Eating together has been something we try to do regularly but we try to make it a take out meal that all the family likes and views as a bit of a treat.
- For location, we have always held the meeting at my office boardroom so that the kids know it is different than a usual family meal. This year’s meeting will be held at home, which will make it a bit more casual, I suspect.
- We usually include a guest speaker from a charity for a first hand account of the needs in the community. We have also done a tour of a hospice facility in the past before the formal meeting.
- Our main goal is to discuss charitable initiatives and we sprinkle in some of the other important information a bit each year as the kids get older.
I have always prepared an agenda and everyone gets a folder with various important information. This is when teenagers start to roll their eyes, but they know I am committed to lots of preparation, and everything we need to discuss, and more, is in the package. The main agenda items include:
- A reminder why we are there and thank you for coming.
- Start with positivity and gratefulness.
- Some reminders about confidentiality and participation and honesty.
- Review of the past year and follow up from last meeting
- Donations and decisions made in last meeting and how they worked out.
- Reminder of current will and executors.
- Other new issues to discuss.
- Review of donations and current value of fund at London Community Foundation.
- Discuss new potential areas.
- Ask kids what areas have most interested them.
- Vote on this year’s donations and amounts. I have been outvoted in this process various times.
- Real estate.
- Kids bank accounts.
- RESP – Education Savings Plan
- Other stuff.
Something I would recommend to families considering what a new family meeting could look like would include:
- Start small with a few topics to test the emotions and feelings. My experience is that once the family knows that participation is wanted, they feel pretty free to mention their thoughts.
- You can start with less threatening topics with less disclosure. It can be as simple as discussing thoughts for family vacations and personal goals.
Our meetings have always been centered on charitable decisions but more recently, we have discussed the kids RESP as we had our oldest approaching graduation from high school. We did a full discussion on what the expectations were for who pays what when college and university comes. We also had our oldest discuss what she liked and disliked about her first year in college. This will help us as the next two kids get to that stage in their lives.
It evolved to including some real estate discussions because there were an opportunity to revise some things about our personal real estate.
Other less threatening topics could just be communicating who the family advisors are, discussing the current wills, and how things would unfold if various hypothetical situations occurred.
Some surprising things that have come up with my family over the years;
- Someone mentioned their wishes for cremation instead of a traditional burial. Which was not expected.
- We have had 2 different kids run the meeting even if the agenda was set by the parents. It has an interesting change to the feel of the meeting.
- There is a time limit, like any good meeting, and we have had some meltdowns by the younger kids in the early years as they were tired and past their limit.
- We have looked to include the generation ahead of us but they have felt like this was our own family tradition and our decisions to make and did not want any outside interference. However, the best family meeting I was ever part of was for a client family with four generations in the same room. It was fascinating to see the heads of the family share with their kids and grand kids while having great grand kids crawl on the floor.