“How can I make sure my children are prepared for wealth?” This is a common question family decision makers ask their advisors, usually at a crucial point in the family’s collective experience. For example, perhaps a death in the family has just caused a major shift in family wealth, or the sale of a family-owned business changes the family’s major asset from business shares to cash.
Other times, the discussion may be initiated because the family patriarch or matriarch wants the family to have a clear understanding of the family wealth: both how the wealth came to be and how it has been sustained. Or perhaps younger family members are finally coming to an age when conversations about family wealth can become more robust.
You’ve tried to instill in your family the values that lead to a successful relationship with wealth. Indeed, much of this work is done every day and in conversations that happen in the car or around the dinner table. The foundations of wealth education are best built slowly and naturally, over time.
A formal family meeting can create a launch pad for more detailed and sophisticated conversations with your family’s next generation.
The opportunity to get the whole family together and have your advisors present can also help initiate unique conversations.
Every family meeting looks different, and you may want to customize your family meeting so it reflects your goals and objectives. The following are a few key considerations to help you create the most effective meeting possible.
- Determine your goals and objectives for the meeting.
- Consider your role in the meeting.
- Prepare the family for the meeting.
- Develop an action plan for future meetings.
Step 1: Determine Goals & Objectives for the Meeting
A family meeting can mean many things to many people, so it’s crucial to spend ample time with your advisory team developing the meeting agenda. Your agenda could address some of the following:
Many families may rely on their team of advisors to begin a process of financial education for the next generation.
Your advisors can work closely with you to help you understand each person’s learning style and where your family is in the education process.
Perhaps this education is an end in itself, or maybe you hope younger family members understand foundational aspects of investments, trust, banking, and planning before you share details about the family’s wealth.
Your advisors can offer insights into the methods that, in their experience, have led to the most effective meetings. They may start with broad concepts that can help ground the conversation for beginners, asking questions such as:
- When and why did trusts come into existence?
- How do banks make money?
- Why do companies go public?
As the conversation becomes more sophisticated, your advisors should continue to narrow and refine the topics most pertinent to your family, customizing the material to your needs.
Preparing a Responsible Inheritor
You may have kept certain aspects of your wealth private and now feel your children are at the right stage to hear about that wealth and how it benefits the family. Even if you know what you want to share, conversations explaining the flow of assets under your estate planning documents or discussing the family’s trusts require careful consideration.
Ask yourself, is everyone starting with the same level of knowledge and understanding? If not, a financial education meeting where terms and concepts can be reviewed before the formal family meeting might be beneficial. Do you want to discuss responsibilities, dollar values, or both? Some families find success educating children about the presence of family trusts and the child’s future role and layering in an understanding of the dollar value of the trust once the children are older.
Your advisory team can share methods that tend to be successful with families and help you anticipate the direction of the conversation.
Opportunity to Explore Family History and Discuss Values
Today’s families are spread out across the country, making every moment a family is together that much more important. Consider whether you want the family meeting to incorporate storytelling or even genealogical research on family history. Remember, the stories you think are well known may not be as familiar to the younger generation. Similarly, a family values exercise and discussion can bring family history to life and help your family understand the direction the next generation may take. When facilitated by your advisory team, these exercises can be a fun yet stimulating way to learn more about the different motivating factors for each family member.
A family meeting is also a wonderful opportunity for a patriarch or matriarch to take the floor and share stories of family history. Don’t feel as if your family will not want to hear these stories — most likely, they do. In anticipation of the meeting, you could work with a family historian or filmmaker to put together a family history and rely on that to help convey your message. When this family history segment is a specific part of the agenda, it’s more likely it will actually happen and won’t get pushed aside due to time constraints. It may also give the conversation a formality and level of gravitas that will encourage all family members to pay attention.
Group Decision Making
Is there a major decision weighing on the family? Perhaps the fate of a beloved family home or property needs to be discussed with advisors to offer a planning perspective. Maybe your family anticipates a series of future decision-making events and wants to put structure around that process. A family governance meeting can help teach your family how to use a formal, agreed-upon method so that all family members feel confident in the process and will be more likely to respect the ultimate outcome.
Step 2: Consider Your Role in the Meeting
Once you have determined the key goals of the initial meeting, the next step is to work with your advisory team to create an agenda. Your team will help determine the role you want to have in the meeting, which may be something you haven’t considered.
Do you want to sit back and observe the meeting with the rest of the family? Do you want a significant role on the agenda? However you feel, don’t be afraid to participate in the meeting in the way you are most comfortable.
It’s not uncommon for an advisory team to do most of the talking during a meeting and leave room for an open family conversation after the team is gone. You might consider a 90-minute meeting, after which the family goes to lunch or dinner together and has an open discussion about what they’ve heard.
Alternatively, you might prefer a segment of time on the agenda to deliver some remarks. Maybe you want to share stories about how you learned of the family wealth or what it was like to run the family business. Perhaps you want to share the investment philosophy that has helped your family acquire wealth or talk about the major charities you’ve supported over the years. Don’t underestimate the power a few opening or closing remarks can have if they’re delivered by you. You can help set the tone and make everyone feel welcome and included.
You might also tie in a discussion of family history with the advisory team’s presentation. For example, either before or after the advisor reviews several significant family trusts, you could add family facts and information about the trust settlors. Kicking off a family meeting with a family tree exercise, filling in relevant facts and information about the highlights of family history, can help break the ice while still helping the family focus on the substance of the day
There is no right or wrong way to be involved in a meeting, and both your family and your advisory team will likely appreciate your insights. Decide the type of experience and role you want, and convey that to your advisory team.
Step 3: Prepare the Family for the Meeting
If you’re the family decision maker, you may be excited to get everyone together. However, it’s possible other members of your family don’t know what to expect or might think the meeting is to address another set of goals entirely. While your advisory team may be happy to help convey the purpose of the meeting, that message is best received if it comes from you. Common logistical considerations include:
Who will be there? Will in-laws be invited to the meeting? Will there be an age cutoff for the children? If this meeting is to convey obligations of certain future decision makers — trustees of family trusts, for example — will there be a separate session for them to learn more about of their duties? Will your attorney or accountant be present at the meeting? Or any other advisors, such as key people from the family business? If they are present, will they have a speaking role?
Where will the meeting occur? An advisor’s office can be a neutral space to meet if you have concerns about tensions running high at any point. Another option is to meet in your home, where your family may feel most comfortable.
You might also hold the family meeting in a historically significant family location. A university where family members attended, a museum that now holds family heirlooms, a city to which the family business spread — all make for meaningful and one-of-a-kind experiences.
What will be covered? We recommend sharing the agenda for the meeting ahead of time to give family members an understanding of the family meeting experience. A one-page agenda with the major highlights of the discussion will typically suffice; there is no need to provide every detail. In fact, an overabundance of preparatory materials may be overwhelming.
Other preparatory materials can help inform your family about what to expect on the day of the meeting. A simple glossary of financial terms can give everyone a basic understanding of what will be covered. A family tree can remind family members of ancestors whose decisions affect family wealth today. A family questionnaire can help present opening questions for family members to consider beforehand and share responses with one another.
Finally, although you may feel comfortable with your advisory team, remember that it may be the first time your other family members are meeting the group. It’s not uncommon for family members to learn the advisory team has such a deep knowledge of the family, and it may actually surprise some people. Your expressed confidence in your team will help the meeting be a success.
Step 4: Develop an Action Plan for Future Meetings
The energy created by a meeting can either be harnessed or lost as everyday life gets in the way. It can be beneficial to carve out time at the end of the meeting to create a strategy for the next steps. This way, family members leave the room committed to the same path forward and aware of their obligations.
Sometimes the next steps can be specific action items. For example, if a family meeting resulted in a family philanthropic calendar whereby all charitable gifts would be made by a specific date, it’s fairly easy to know if you’re on track. But some next steps can be broad. If your next step is to continue an education on a particular topic, for example, socially responsible investing, you may rely heavily on your team of advisors to guide your family’s progression in this area.
Consider whether the appropriate follow-up for your family is a similar session with the advisory team and what that session would cover. Does your family want to dive deeper into the topic that was just introduced or apply that same energy to a new topic? For example, if the first family meeting revealed the parents’ estate plan, do you want a second meeting to focus on understanding rights and obligations under the family trusts? Or do you want to shift gears and focus on family philanthropic efforts?
When determining the next steps, designate who will hold the group accountable. Do you prefer the advisors suggest the next meeting, or does the family want to set the next meeting date, perhaps while all are together at the first meeting? If people have specific follow ups (for example, if the children need to let mom and dad know whether they want to participate in the family business), set an equally specific deadline.
Treat any follow-up meetings with as much seriousness as you would a work assignment.
Ample preparation can allow your family meeting to be not only a success but also a transformational event for the way the family communicates and operates.