Use a Family Meeting as a Tool in Your Estate Plan

By Solid Serenity Legal Solutions

When most people start making their checklists for estate planning, what most often pops up are things such as trusts, or wills, or insurance.

One thing that has not traditionally been on that checklist but that is becoming more and more common is the family meeting. Baby Boomers specifically have sought to make their estate planning arrangements more transparent to their families by adding a family meeting to the end of their estate planning to ensure understanding regarding their decisions to minimize or avoid conflict. Family meetings are particularly useful if there is an uneven distribution, a blended family, or if gifts have been made during your lifetime.

The purpose of the family meeting is to share relevant information with your family so everyone is on the same page. This will prevent surprises when you become incapacitated or pass away and help loved ones understand your wishes. In a family meeting, you can explain to everyone why you decided to distribute your assets the way you did.

Ask your professional advisors to be present so that your family can become comfortable working with them and ask questions if there is confusion.

Who to Invite

Who you invite depends on your personal circumstances. Each family is different, but often meetings will include your children, siblings, and, on occasion, close friends. Leaving people out of the meeting can create more problems than not having a meeting in the first place, so its good to hold off on any meeting until you are ready to invite everyone you love to the table.

Things can get trickier if you choose to involve the spouses or significant others of your children, but sometimes it is wise to be able to control that message so important details do not get lost in the translation as information is passed down.

It is also smart to invite the whole professional team you have used. Inviting the attorney, accountant, and/or financial advisor helps stabilize the situation if people begin to get upset and having the professionals at the meeting give them the opportunity to explain legal and tax concepts and consequences. It is also easier to have the meeting at the professional’s office as it serves as neutral territory.

What to Discuss

Your first task before going into the meeting is to come up with an agenda of what should be discussed. Outline what you are going to talk about and if there is something you are not yet ready or willing to speak on, don’t include it in the agenda. It can also be helpful to send out the agenda beforehand to give everyone the opportunity to prepare questions.

(1) Named Administrators

One thing you can share is who you have named to represent you and your estate and why. Explaining who you have chosen as your agent for your power of attorney, your executor of your will, and trustees of any trusts and why you have chosen can help avoid conflict in the future. It is also helpful to know now if those you have chosen for important roles do not want to serve in them.

While talking about the administrators, you can let those administrators know how you would like your estate to be handled and give them necessary documents and information.

(2) Care Needs

As you grow older and your health changes, you may have more caregiving needs. Discuss your latest doctor’s report with your family. If one child is providing care to you and you are paying your child now or through more left to this child in your estate, explain that to your other children so everyone understands why there is an imbalance.

This is also a good opportunity to speak with your family about what your wishes are in regards to whether you would like to be cremated or how you would like your funeral to be arranged.

As a family legacy planning attorney and probate attorney, we see both sides of the coin. Those who contest distributions usually do so because they feel they were slighted in some way and that the family member’s true wishes were not carried out.

Schedule an appointment with your family and your trusted advisors today so that your family can fully understand your wishes and not suffer later!

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