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Oct 18, 2016

How can my advisor help me organize a successful family meeting?

Families gather for many reasons, such as to celebrate birthdays and holidays, weddings and reunions; they come together for special events or merely “just because.” Less frequent, but arguably even more important, is the occasion to come together for a designated meeting to discuss family finances.

Many of the families we work with at Coastal Bridge want to pass on their values and ambitions to multiple generations and to achieve a seamless transition of their wealth. As such, we encourage our clients to engage in these important gatherings.

Of course, these can be sensitive matters to discuss and may give way to underlying emotions and tensions. Therefore, we encourage our clients to contemplate a well thought out approach to organizing a family meeting. At Coastal Bridge, we strive to set the stage for a successful gathering, by considering a host of key factors:

Role of facilitator: Those who facilitate the management of substantial family wealth must recognize that significant issues and family dynamics will likely come into play. Managing a family’s finances is similar to runninga business; and, as such, it is helpful to have an independent party facilitate financial-related discussions. We at Coastal Bridge are often asked to play this role. Accordingly, we serve as the facilitator, to create an environment that fosters communication, education, and engagement. When sensitive issues are discussed, we strive to deliver unbiased and holistic views that can help diffuse any tension and emotion that may occur.

When carefully planned for, a family meeting can be a practical and beneficial institution for any family.

Agenda: A well-planned agenda with specific items will aid the family in staying on task. It is important to keep all family members in mind as the agenda is created. Topics will vary by family, but may include business-succession planning, investment updates, private investing ideas, estate-planning reviews, philanthropy, financial literacy, real estate updates and family milestones. Even seemingly less critical items may require attention. For instance, we recently had a discussion with a family about who was to receive certain family heirlooms. In other words, whatever is important to the family is important to the family meeting.

Frequency and duration: Selecting a location that is comfortable for all participants is important. Some families prefer a conference room while others might want to meet at the patriarch’s or matriarch’s home. This personal choice will vary, but what’s important is a location that will encourage dialogue among all attending members.

Timing: We have found that families who have successful meetings hold them at least annually and coordinate well enough in advance to achieve the best turnout. Holding the meeting at the same time each yearcan boost attendance, and establishing such meetings around a holiday or during the summer when families might already be together makes good sense. The duration of the gathering is driven by the agenda. As with any meeting, it is important to stay on task but also allow for some flexibility.

Attendees: Deciding on the attendees of a family meeting can cause controversy in and of itself and should be approached thoughtfully. Sometimes, extended family, including aunts, uncles and cousins, are included. Oftentimes the cutoff is based on age, or may involve young adults only for certain portions of the meeting, such as philanthropic or financial literacy discussions. While Coastal Bridge is often the coordinator, we advise our clients to include other trusted advisors such as CPAs, attorneys and even psychologists, as well.

When thoughtfully considered and carefully planned for, a family meeting can be a practical and beneficial institution for any family. At Coastal Bridge, we consider it a key role to aid in the coordination of these meetings, while considering the key elements of a successful gathering and working to deliver effective solutions for our clients and their families.

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