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Right next to politics and religion, at the top of the list of topics families struggle talking about is money. In fact, a recent UBS Investor Watch cited 47% of US high net worth investors say they aren’t comfortable talking with heirs about their inheritance because they don’t want them to feel entitled. And 51% of heirs find the whole topic depressing.1 Yet, regularly talking about money matters can go a long way toward easing concerns, aligning values and strengthening family bonds.

So, what’s the solution? It may be time for a family meeting.

You define what makes a family meeting

“Family meeting” is one of those phrases that means different things to different people and defies a one-size-fits-all definition. A family may include one or more generations. It may or may not include in-laws, stepchildren and domestic partners. And a meeting can be in-person or through an electronic gathering. Although definition is difficult, the phrase “family meeting” can be best described by the expectations and goals of each family member. In order to succeed, disparate expectations and goals must be understood, unified and addressed.

A key goal is communicating what's important to the family:

  • The passing on of purpose and values
  • Education regarding financial matters
  • The strengthening of family bonds
  • Accountability for actions of family members
  • Sharing news, concerns, opportunities and challenges
  • Sharing information and making shared decisions
  • Modeling family leadership behaviors to younger family members
Taking the time to meet as a family now may make future major life events and transitions easier.
Laura Chooljian
Senior Wealth Strategist
UBS Advanced Planning Group

Seems reasonable. So why don’t more families have meetings like this? As with all new endeavors, there can be anxiety about the unknown and the issues that may arise. Some can’t get past these obstacles and for them, family meetings may not be an option. Each family has to determine what goals they wish to achieve and keep the focus there. Those who do proceed understand that the possible benefits of such meetings outweigh the perceived risks.

Get started with purpose and structure

Once you’ve decided to move forward, meeting planning can proceed. There’s no typical process and each family’s meetings are unique and as complex as the families themselves. Experience shows, however, that the greatest success is achieved by following this general format:

  • Family heads meet to develop and formalize the values and goalsthey wish to convey.
  • A larger family meeting is called to communicateand refine them. The family then develops a governancemodel to organize ongoing meetings and manage future decision-making.
  • Ongoing meetings (possibly including spouses and young family members) are held to educate and put values and goals into action.

You may choose to tweak it here and there to suit your purposes, but this general structure can increase the chance of developing financially savvy heirs, help to build strong family ties and create a sense of support and system of accountability.

What families are talking about

  • How and when to make wealth available to children
  • Distribution issues: fair versus equal
  • When and how to involve the next generation
  • Multigenerational estate planning
  • Philanthropy
  • Politics
  • Public relations
  • Home ownership
  • Family history
  • Security and safety
  • Technology
  • Wise use of debt

Communicate values

Effective communication starts with determining what to communicate. A strong grasp of the values that are most important to you is essential. Outside expertise (family meeting consultant, wealth psychologist, financial advisor, etc.) can be beneficial when first starting the family meeting process. A good family meeting consultant can help refine attitudes and beliefs about money, family and philanthropy and put them in a form that can then be successfully passed along to successors. They can also help craft the best way to convey the message.

The entire family then can use these values to create an overarching set of principles or mission statement and use it as the foundation for managing ongoing meetings and future decision-making.

Meet the future head on

Regular, well-planned, family meetings are more than a chance to get together. They’re an effective means of establishing clear values, individual accountability and a common commitment to your family’s best interests. More importantly, the family meeting is a learning opportunity for everyone attending. A chance to learn not simply by listening, but also by watching the activities and behaviors of family leadership—and emulate those behaviors in a way that can help a family’s wealth last for generations.

Read the white paper by Laura Chooljian, Senior Wealth Strategist, UBS Advanced Planning Group: Family meetings(PDF, 398 KB) a publication of the Advanced Planning Group

1UBS Investor Watch Survey, 2022.

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