Your Financial Wealth is only part of the legacy you pass on to your heirs...

Do you want to protect and pass on a family business or investments and other assets, family values, and the strategies that have allowed you to build and protect your wealth?

Would you also like to protect those assets for a surviving spouse, your heirs and beneficiaries so that they are not lost to personal or business lawsuits, divorce, bad relationships, and from taxation?

If these goals appeal to you, then doing a comprehensive estate plan, including a will and/or trust, is the first step.

But, that is where many affluent families, blended families, family business owners and investors stop. This often leaves heirs with a cold and legal plan that seems overly complex, that they don't understand, and that they fail to optimize.

The secret that many affluent families have used throughout history is the lifetime family meeting strategy.

The "family meeting" can be as simple as a one or two hour session following the execution of a will or more comprehensive estate plan, up to a half day or full day session of education and training for spouses, adult children, and other family members. Whatever format you choose, you'll be in the small percentage of families that take steps to truly protect not just their financial legacy but so much more.

What is covered in a family meeting?

These meetings often review the estate plan, trusts, who will act as trustees, trust protectors and executors. The various jobs are described and some training can be provided so that your heirs understand the various estate planning techniques and jobs..

Family members and executors and trustees can also be introduced to other trusted advisers, and can be taught how to minimize taxes and fees, as well as how to protect business interests and other assets from divorces and lawsuits.

Since affluent families often have complicated estate plans (with specific goals and flexible rules), the goals and purposes of those plans can be reviewed and the underlying family values, business information and other important factors can be taught and reviewed.

Sometimes, family meetings can be used to make sure that the next generation also understands and creates estate planning for themselves.

Who runs a family meeting?

Your estate planning attorney can help facilitate your family meeting.

We often work with the family to invite other advisers in the team of advisers (such as insurance, financial and tax advisers).

Occasionally, we will also arrange for appraisers, succession planning advisers and other professionals to be involved when particular long term strategies, family businesses, and/or extensive real estate or life insurance is involved in the plan.

Who participates in family meetings?

There is no one answer.

Who participates depends on what you want to accomplish. For example, a family meeting designed to provide for the succession of one generation in a family business might focus on the members of the family directly involved in the change of management and ownership.

A family meeting designed to teach the next generation how the estate plan will work, how to minimize taxes and fees, and how to protect assets from creditors and lawsuits might have all of the family members involved.

If some children or grandchildren are too young to benefit from certain information at the family meeting, there might be multiple sessions for each age group. 

College aged children or grandchildren might be educated in certain business and investment strategies, while their parents are educated about the trusts being used to protect assets from federal estate taxes or about their roles as executors, trust protectors, or trustees.

How much does it cost to hold a family meeting?

Again, the costs can vary significantly. However, they can range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

However, families that use the family meeting as an essential part of their estate planning believe that these up front costs can, and do, pay massive dividends.


Here are a few examples.

If one family dispute can be avoided by careful planning and education, the family might save hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees incurred in an unnecessary will contest.

If assets are maintained in a trust for a son or daughter who understands the strategy and later gets divorced, they might have otherwise lost 50% or more of those assets.

Finally, if a trust is successfully moved from a higher tax state to a lower tax state, huge tax savings and superior investment growth can be achieved.

In short, the family meeting can be as simple or complex as you desire. It can involve as much or as little specific financial disclosure as you see fit.

However, once you have a comprehensive estate plan in place (through your will and/or trusts), few techniques can help to maximize the effectiveness of that plan and minimize costs and taxes as well as the family meeting.

If a family meeting is so expensive, why don't families run their own for free?

Well, some do.  However, the issues related to transferring and optimizing family wealth, a family business, and/or other investments can be very complex.  In addition, most family meetings are designed to make sure that the next generation understands various trusts and estate planning tools, and how to get the most out of non family advisers at the best possible rates.  

We do that every day for clients so we are well prepared to walk heirs through complicated looking documents.

Family meeting are also often designed to flush out, and to deal with family problems, and disputes in advance.  For that reason, having skilled advisers who know how to ethically and effectively mediate and resolve such problems is essential for many families and can save many times the costs of having such a team present. 

If you want to know more about family meetings....

In the coming months, we will host several webinars dedicated to helping clients find the specific type of family meeting that is best for them.

So, if you:

  • have a family business
  • hold substantial investments
  • intent to protect a spouse and/or children from remarriage and/or divorce claims
  • intend to sell a business and use liquidity to fund trusts for family members
  • are doing or planning to do exit planning or succession planning
  • want to teach and preserve family values across multiple generations
  • have business, investments, or life strategies that you want to teach to future generations
  • have a blended family and want to protect against legal challenges or family disputes

Then call 610-933-8069 and ask to be added to our registration list for our family meeting webinars and programs.

If you're ready to create a customized family meeting either locally, or at a family vacation destination, please contact Lisa Snyder ([email protected]) for more information, pricing, and the credentials and experience of our various legal team members.

David M. Frees, III
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Attorney, Speaker and Author
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