Don’t Let a Funeral Director Plan Your Next Family Gathering

As part of The Blum Firm’s new initiative on Family Legacy Planning, we have been stressing that the single most important step to family success is to plan regular family meetings. All too often, family gatherings occur only at holidays or are (heaven forbid) randomly dictated by a loved one’s passing. Family meetings should be intentional and planned, providing an opportunity for both meaningful content and fun interaction.

As last week’s email emphasized, the first rule is “Don’t Go It Alone.” We can help you select the right advisor to facilitate the meeting. The next steps are to determine who attends, when, and where. Pre-meeting interviews between the facilitator and each attendee will identify key topics for discussion. The family may also fill out an assessment form to further reveal issues needing the most attention. The next step is to set the agenda for the first meeting.

Here are some suggested “do’s” and “don’ts” for a first meeting:

  1. Don’t lead with the money. Many assume the first order of business is to review the family’s financial picture, entity structure, and estate planning documents. Although those are important topics, push them off to a later meeting.
  2. Start with a focus on the family’s values, not its valuables. Engage in an exercise to identify each family member’s key values, and then find the overlaps. By identifying common values, the meeting starts on a positive note. We want to begin with commonalities, and when “hot” issues or disagreements arise, put them in the parking lot to address later. The first meeting is better used to identify values the family treasures, which will be useful later in crafting a family mission statement.
  3. Another early activity is to engage in an exercise to identify each family member’s communication style. Knowing each one’s way of interacting, and even the way each one expresses love, will help as we work on opening communication channels and building trust. Recall that the single greatest cause for family failure isn’t inadequate planning; it’s lack of communication and trust.
  4. Tell family stories, especially stories of resilience and times ancestors overcame obstacles. When (not if) adversity strikes, knowing that you descend from survivors builds confidence that you also have what it takes to survive.
  5. Address visionary topics, such as each person’s ideal vision for the family’s future. Ask each to look into a crystal ball and envision what you want the family to look like in 25 years. What steps can we take now to improve the chances of looking like that family?

As we continue with this email series, be on the lookout for a deeper dive into suggested topics for family meetings. There are no right or wrong approaches. Let us help guide you to select the best topics for to kick off your first family meeting.

Marvin E. Blum