© 2016 Joan E. Emery
A family meeting may take place only once or the meetings may happen several times each year for decades. Family meetings are often used for the following reasons:
1. Estate Plan - disclosure of some or all aspects of a family member’s estate plan – may be a single meeting;
2. Family Business – meetings are often annual or bi-annual, possibly for as long as the business exists;
3. Family Crisis - dealing with an immediate dilemma, such as physical or mental crisis of a family member – frequency depends on the nature of the situation; and
4. Ongoing Family Situation - dealing with a current family issue (such as the physical or mental deterioration of a family member, use of family vacation home, or administration of a family foundation) – frequency of meetings depends on the issues being addressed.
If you have a successful family meeting and your family wants to have another family meeting, what can you do to increase the likelihood that the subsequent meeting(s) will be successful? Subsequent meetings will involve most of the same preparation steps used for the first family meeting (which were discussed last week) and will also include:
1. Resolve who will prepare a summary of the notes taken at the original meeting and circulate that summary to all meeting participants.
2. Decide who will be the facilitator(s) of the next family meeting.
3. The facilitator(s) will then take the following actions:
a. Work with family members to decide on a date for the next meeting;
b. Prepare a draft agenda for the next meeting, circulate that draft to all family members who may attend the next meeting, and seek feedback, as appropriate, from family members regarding topics to be included in the next agenda; and
c. Decide whether to get input regarding modifications, if necessary, to the meeting behavioral guidelines. Sample guidelines might be no interrupting, approach a disagreement as an opportunity to resolve a conflict, stick to the agenda items, be respectful of other participants' opinions and ideas, deal with others fairly, take turns speaking and listening, and everyone will have an opportunity to speak.
4. Plan to include some relaxation or fun. If the meeting takes the form of a family retreat or trip, there can be many opportunities for shared fun. If the meeting has a more urgent and stressful purpose, e.g. a health crisis of a family member, it is still appropriate to include some time at the beginning or end of the meeting to share some favorite family stories or to catch up on family news from each family member.
Family meetings, which are structured around a family business, involve a relatively large number of people, or are expected to take place over a period of years, often include two additional aspects. These aspects are:
1. Family Mission Statement – The purpose of a family mission statement is usually to describe the family’s values (identity, ideals, and traditions). Goals of the family or the purposes of the family meetings are also often included.
a. The family mission statement of a family which has a family business might be to provide business opportunities for family members, to grow the business, and to continue the business for as long as reasonably possible.
b. The family mission statement of a family involved in the long term care of a family member might be to provide that family member with the highest quality of life reasonably possible.
c. The family mission statement of a family guiding a family foundation might be to find innovative ways to give back to the community, in the area of health care, education, protecting the environment, or any other charitable purpose which the family has chosen to focus on.
2. Family Council – The family council can serve a function similar to the board of directors of a corporation. Family councils often create governing rules. These rules are used to organize and operate the family council and the family meetings. The governing rules usually specify the purpose of the family council and how it is to be organized (including who can be a member, the election or selection process for becoming a member, duration of membership, and the relationship of the family council to family meetings). For example, members of the family council might be elected by a majority of the family members and serve a three year term. The family council might be responsible for planning the annual family meeting and providing family members with a quarterly family newsletter.
Sharing information, engaging in discussions, and brainstorming solutions at family meetings can keep family members close, bring family members closer, reinforce family values, and create a platform to deal with family issues which may arise.
I am an attorney practicing in the Chicago area.