How to host a Family Meeting

Empirical evidence suggests the odds are low for sustaining wealth across multiple generations. The old saying “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” reflects the fact that only a small number of wealthy families are successful at managing wealth from the generation that built the wealth through to their grandchildren.

As it turns out, the families who defy this old saying have some best practices for beating the odds. So, now we challenge you to guess what those techniques are.

Best Practices for Maintaining Wealth Across Generations

Quick: Write down the first three best practices for maintaining wealth that come to mind.

Here are a few easy ones that almost any wealthy family should do:

  • Prepare an annual balance sheet and income statement.
  • Visit your accountant/estate attorney every year.
  • Review life insurance policies when you receive the annual statement.
  • When making charitable gifts, always start with appreciated stock, not cash.
  • Monitor your spending.
  • Appeal your property taxes.

Then they get tougher: Mentor your children and grandchildren to be industrious, pursue their passions and achieve their potentials. Pursue family philanthropy. Define a mission/vision statement for the family. Identify age-appropriate financial education for young family members.

The Annual Family Meeting: Collaboration and Communication

And, finally, we come to one best practice that I want you to start this year: host a family meeting.

I know — this idea scares the heck out of most people. Families go to great lengths to avoid talking about anything personal or financial. Why would anyone establish an annual meeting exclusively for this purpose?

The reason is because cooperation and collaboration are key to growing your family’s wealth. Without accord, disagreements can quickly break a family apart. In addition, family gatherings — such as holidays or birthdays — are not an appropriate time to discuss family business. Your goal at a holiday or birthday event is to celebrate as a family and have fun. The goal of an annual family meeting is to express ideas and discuss relevant issues, with an explicit agenda — with all family members participating. (You can also have fun at the annual family meeting, don’t get us wrong; but you rarely have an agenda at a birthday party, right?)

Keep in mind that just because a family cooperates doesn’t mean its members must agree on every discussion or decision. You should expect your family members’ needs and goals to be as diverse as their personalities. Foster empathy and communication within your family. Assume that many topics will not conclude with a decision, but with a better understanding of viewpoints.

When your family members are scattered around the world, it’s not easy to get together. This is where technology can be helpful. Our family has used Facetime to bring members in other cities to our family meetings. It works pretty well.

The bottom line is that by finding ways to foster communication within your family, you’ll help family members understand each others’ priorities and work together to protect and possibly grow the family’s wealth.

Where to Start

Here are some tips to help get your family meeting started.

  1. Encourage family members to participate — but keep in mind you can’t demand it. Start with the willing members. Be flexible on timing. Host the meeting in a location that will encourage people to come.

  2. Solicit ideas for the agenda. The point is to address the family members’ questions, not the matriarch’s or patriarch’s hot-button issues.

  3. Bring the talent. If the agenda requires it, bring in an outside expert to address the details. I have found estate attorneys, tax accountants, investment experts, and philanthropic leaders to be very generous with their time.

  4. Keep it fun and relevant. A minority of family members are interested in tax law changes or reviewing backup trustee responsibilities, so be sure to keep fun topics on the agenda. Is there a big family vacation in your future? This would be a good forum to discuss destinations.

The agenda for a family meeting is easy to compose if you have a family company, vacation home, or shared investments. But almost every family has topics of mutual interest that can be discussed periodically.

I hope this list gives you enough ideas to get the meeting started, but there are tougher topics to consider, also. For example, at what age should you include grandchildren? When is it appropriate to include spouses?

The guidelines for these questions depend on your family and the scope of the agenda to be discussed at the family meeting. Conifer Bay Capital can assist in these types of conversations. Please contact us if you would like to discuss the unique aspects of your personal situation.