How to Initiate Family Meetings

Family meetings are a critical communication tool. Both wealth psychologist James Grubman, Ph.D. and elder care advocate Mardy Chizek emphasized the importance of these meetings at Altair’s recent spring forum on longevity planning. Particularly in families looking to maintain wealth across multiple generations, an ability to communicate openly and honestly may be the most essential determinant in reaching that goal.

So how can a family get started and begin to make these meetings a regular occurrence? While there is no “one-size-fits-all” template, there are common content and logistical decisions that make planning easier and meetings more productive.

Start high-level.

You don’t have to start with numbers and details. The first meeting can be mostly about how and why the family should have regular meetings and what the purpose and goals of these discussions will be. Also, in the beginning, go for easy wins. If how the family will maintain the beach house into the next generation is a known “hot-button” issue, don’t start there. Begin with less controversial subjects. After the family has more experience talking through financial issues as a group, you can then tackle more sensitive topics.

Set the stage.

Conversations about money are fraught with anxiety for most people. Knowing in advance what the topic(s) and purpose of the meeting will be will help put everyone at ease. If attendees are expected to share their point of view or be familiar with any specific documents or details, give them the time and information necessary to prepare.

Grow the circle slowly.

Depending on the size and dynamics within the family, it might be best to start small with immediate family members – parents and adult children – and then branch out to include in-laws and even young-adult grandchildren as the group gains more experience talking about financial matters.

Make it a habit.

Rather than calling meetings only in reaction to new or changing situations, which could also be a time of heightened emotion, try to get into a regular schedule for these discussions. This will help normalize talking about money and financial issues so that if and when unexpected things happen, the family will already have experience working on these issues together.

Establish healthy guidelines.

Effective communications require an environment that fosters trust, encourages cooperation and promotes a willingness to listen to and appreciate differences. Getting to this level of communications is more challenging than it sounds – particularly in a group of family members. People come into family discussions with pre-existing assumptions about others and habits in interacting with one another. All of us also tend to be more easily triggered by perceived criticism from family members and often less restrained in our responses.

While setting up rules for these discussions may seem overbearing, having a few thoughtful guidelines sets expectations for healthy discussions and provides a structure for addressing difficult topics in a respectful way. When family members come to an agreement on a few rules around how to talk and interact within these meetings, it serves as a pact, increasing trust and confidence across the group.

Ask for guidance.

If you need assistance, ask for it. Bringing in a skilled third-party facilitator can be a good way to provide greater structure and help the family learn how to have these discussions. Altair regularly works with family clients to help directly with facilitation and/or provide support for meeting preparation. Talk with your client relations team if you are interested in learning more about how we can help.

The benefits of regular family meetings cannot be overstated. They are one of the best measures for strengthening communication, preparing for future family changes and transitions and increasing empathy and understanding across the family group. Family meetings provide an intentional time for coming together to discuss important issues within the family and make collective decisions. If this is a practice your family has not yet adopted, we encourage you to get started.

The material shown is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as accounting, legal, or tax advice. Altair Advisers LLC is a registered investment adviser with the Securities and Exchange Commission; registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. While efforts are made to ensure information contained herein is accurate, Altair Advisers cannot guarantee the accuracy of all such information presented.