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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Family meeting at Christmas?

Clients often ask me whether it is alright to bring up sensitive family topics when the family is gathered for the holiday season or whether doing so would "ruin Christmas". I'm in favour of having family meetings when everyone, or almost everyone, is already gathered together and prepared to spend some time together.

There are some subjects that are best brought up in person with the family group rather than being discussed in a hit or miss fashion on email or during telephone calls. For example, if an issue facing your family right now is what alternatives are available for an ageing parent who is having trouble living alone, it is better to have everyone present who may have something constructive to add.

During the holiday season you may also find that because many of your family members have time off work or are already planning to travel to join the group, you will be taking advantage of the fact that people are together who are not normally together. You can avoid trying to pick a date at another time of year that will suit several people's schedules, and you will not have to deal with the issue of people having to travel specifically for a family meeting.

If you are planning to take advantage of the family gathering at Christmas, use some tact and planning. Do not blurt out your issue unexpectedly at the dinner table. Instead, ask whether people would be willing to set aside some time that evening or the next day to have a family meeting to talk over some issues and help each other find solutions. Set the tone by asking in a calm, co-operative way.

My next book, which will be released in March 2010, is all about holding a family meeting to talk about estate planning and issues facing ageing parents. It is packed with ideas on how and where to hold a meeting, who should attend, what should be covered in a meeting and what to do after the meeting to make sure you end up with a legally binding estate plan. I'm really looking forward to this book coming out as I poured a lot of my personal and professional experience into it and I believe it will be really useful for a lot of people.

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