© 2016 Joan E. Emery
If Mom and Dad decide to have a family meeting to discuss their estate plan, what are some key aspects of a successful meeting? Mom and Dad should consider adopting the following guidelines:
1. Define, in advance, the purpose and scope of the meeting. Defining the scope requires that Mom and Dad decide in advance how much information they want to share. All participants should be aware that calling a family meeting does not mean that Mom and Dad have given up control of decisions regarding their estate plan. The roles of Mom and Dad as the ultimate decision makers regarding their estate plan should be made clear.
2. Prepare and send an agenda, in advance, to all participants. Effective use of an agenda creates the expectation that the meeting will be focused on the agenda and will have clear, specified goals.
3. Decide in advance who is invited to attend. The answer to this question depends on the dynamics of the family. When making this decision, it’s important to remember that not including all members of the same group, e.g. children, grandchildren, or spouses of children or grandchildren, can lead to conflict.
4. Decide in advance who will be the facilitator of the meeting. Will it be Mom and Dad, Mom or Dad, a trusted advisor, or a trained facilitator? Any trusted advisor who acts as facilitator should decide how he or she will deal with confidentiality issues, potential conflict of interest issues, and the possible perception by some attendees that the trusted advisor is not impartial.
5. Consider providing a brief set of behavior rules before the meeting or at the beginning of the meeting. Everyone should understand that conflict may occur, but that conflict is a part of life. One of the purposes of these guidelines is to provide a framework for managing conflict.
6. Anticipate problems that may occur at the meeting. Decide what can be done prior to the meeting to prevent potential problems. If prevention of the problem is not possible, then, prior to the meeting, decide on steps to minimize or fix the problem if it occurs. Common problems are hostility or attempts to dominate the meeting. Common solutions are using the agenda to limit discussion, using the behavior rules to keep unacceptable behavior in check, guiding a participant back to the meeting agenda, and temporarily suspending or permanently ending the meeting.
7. Document what happened at the meeting. This can be done by taking notes or by taping the meeting, but any relevant state law regarding audio or video tapes should be complied with. It’s usually helpful to prepare a summary of the meeting and to send the summary to all meeting participants.
8. Plan a positive way to end the meeting and then conclude the meeting using the planned closing.
9. Consider whether a follow-up family meeting would be beneficial.
I am an attorney practicing in the Chicago area.