Why a Family Meeting is An Effective Part of Your Estate Plan

Anytime I hear the words “family meeting” I cringe a little. You never really know what may is coming your way. Sometimes it may be news that’s hard to hear, like news that a family member is ill or getting a divorce. Or sometimes, it’s exciting news about a new job or baby. Regardless of what you share, family meetings serve one important goal to create an opportunity for loved ones to discuss important issues in their lives and to keep each other informed. For this reason, family meetings have become a crucial part of our estate planning process.

We typically recommend that the family meeting come at the end of the estate planning process after all of the hard decisions have been made and the estate planning documents have been finalized and executed. There is value in being transparent with your loved ones and letting them know what your wishes are. Now, we understand that most families don’t look as though they’ve come straight out of an episode of Leave it to Beaver, which makes the family meeting even more important. A conversation is helpful when there is a blended family, a beneficiary with substance abuse issues, or an uneven distribution of assets between beneficiaries. Discussing these topics may help minimize or even avoid conflict between family members.

Who do I invite to the family meeting?

Because you’re the one calling the family meeting you get to be in control of the guest list. Every family looks different so your guest list may differ based on your personal circumstances. Typically, you would invite your spouse, children, siblings, and sometimes close friends. If you decide to leave people off the guest list it might be an indication that it’s not time to have the family meeting yet.

Don’t forget to invite your team of professional advisors – your attorney, financial advisor, and accountant. Their expertise will add value to the meeting and they can help explain more complicated aspects of your estate plan. This will also allow your loved ones the opportunity to get to know your advisors and develop a relationship with the professionals that you are close with. Ultimately, this will help for a smoother estate administration.

What do I discuss?

Every good meeting starts with an agenda. Again, because this is your estate plan and your meeting, you also get to set the agenda. You get to decide how in-depth you want to be with the details that you share. Make sure that you write down your agenda and include your goals, concerns, and plans. It’s a good idea to make sure your family meeting should focuses on providing an overview of your estate plan and the wishes and directions that you included. This means that you should not feel pressured or obligated to disclose financial information at the meeting.

Where do I hold my family meeting?

A safe space for the meeting is a space that is neutral to you and your loved ones. Often times, we host these meetings for our clients at our offices and help moderate them, if needed. If it’s hard to gather your family together in one location, video conferencing through services like Zoom are always an option to get everyone together.

Important Topics to Consider Discussing

There are several important topics that you may want to discuss with your loved ones in your meeting. The first topic to consider is outlining the individuals that you’ve chosen to act on your behalf. This includes sharing who you’ve chosen to act as:
– agent under your power of attorney for financial decisions
– agent under your health care proxy or advance directive for your health care decisions
– executor of your will to represent your estate during probate
– trustee of your trust

You may also want to consider sharing where you’ve stored your estate planning documents. Loved ones should know where you store these documents and how to access them. It can be extremely frustrating when they can’t locate a document that they know exists. For instance, if your will has to be filed for probate but cannot be located, the outcome of your estate distribution can be affected. In addition to this, sharing username and passwords to important accounts is also a good idea. Because of privacy laws it is can be very difficult to access accounts without a court order.

Another important topic to discuss is your care needs. As you age and your health changes it may be necessary to hire a caregiver or care manager to assist your family. Because of this, it is important to consider sharing your latest doctor’s report to make sure that your loved ones are up to date on your medical history. It’s important for your loved ones to understand your medical needs so they can secure the right care for you. Also, if you have a loved one caring for you and you are paying them, it is a good idea to discuss your payment arrangements because this is often a topic that creates discord in many families.

Your wishes regarding your end of life care is one of the most important decisions that you can make for yourself. As such, it is equally as important that you share this with your loved ones. While it may be hard to discuss your wishes related to life-sustaining treatment like being on a ventilator or a feeding tube, it’s important that your family know what you would like. Often, by sharing your end of life wishes, you are giving your loved ones peace of mind in the decisions that they make on your behalf.

Last, if you have prepaid burial or cremation arrangements already made share them with your loved ones. If not, tell them what your wishes are.

Estate planning is different for everyone because there are so many different details to consider. There is no one format to follow for your family meeting. While having difficult conversations is never easy, it will likely provide relief to you and your loved ones after you make your wishes known. Before you call your family meeting, take some time to consider the recommendations above.

If it’s time to put together or update your estate plan, contact us and we can help you through the process.

Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay

About the Author

Alyssa Marie Monteleon, Esq.

Alyssa Marie Monteleon is an elder law and estate planning attorney at the Monteleon Law Group, PLLC with offices in New York and Virginia. For more information, please visit www.monteleonlaw.com or call (914) 840-2529.

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