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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Who gets to attend a family meeting?

It sounds simple, doesn't it? It's a family meeting, so obviously all family members get to go if they want to. But have you ever noticed how many different meanings there can be for the word "family"?

Let's say you want to hold a family meeting to talk about what to do about the fact that your elderly dad won't stop driving even though he's a danger to himself and everyone else on the road. Do you want your dad to attend that meeting? Will he be upset or angry? It might be better for you and your siblings to talk amongst yourselves first, agree upon one or two possible solutions, then elect someone to speak to your dad on behalf of everyone. It might avoid your parent feeling that everyone is ganging up on him.

Let's say your parents want to have a meeting to talk about how they plan to leave their estate assets, including the house and cottage, among their children after they pass away. Who should be at that meeting, and whose decision is it about who is invited? As the information being given is financial, legal and personal, your parents should logically have control over who is present and privy to their private information.

Your parents will probably want all of the children present, but what about the children's spouses? There are always exceptions, but most parents tell me that they don't want the in-laws present, even when their children have been married for a long time.

What if there is a sibling who is estranged from your parents? Or perhaps a sibling who has simply drifted out of everyone's lives over the last few years? Should that person be invited to join?

There might be others affected by your parents' planning as well, if there is a family business that is owned in part by others outside of your nuclear family. They might well have something to say about what happens to that business after your parents pass away.

In many families, there is a real danger that any family meeting will deteriorate into a shouting match. If that is the case, you might consider inviting a mediator to run the family meeting.

The lesson to be taken from all of this is that it takes some thought to figure out who should be at a meeting. Don't assume anything, except to assume that others will have a different definition of "family" than you do.

I talk about all of these situations and more in my new book, "Estate Planning Through Family Meetings".

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