Summer’s around the corner and for many families that means vacation time. Particularly if your family is one of the 5 million the Travel Industry Association estimates enjoy vacations with three generations or the one third of summer travelers who attend a family reunion, you might consider integrating a family meeting into your plans.
Once a tool for only the ultra-wealthy, the family meeting is now used by families of all net worths. In my experience, a family meeting held during a vacation is often a very effective way to broach difficult-to-discuss topics, such as estate planning. And the experts agree. For example, Charles Collier, a former senior philanthropic adviser at Harvard University and author of Wealth in Families says involving children in decisions of wealth distribution helps build stronger families. Writes Collier, “Family meetings send two wonderful messages: You count, and you belong.”
Of course, your meeting’s agenda will depend on the age of your children and your interests. In addition to estate planning, you might tackle your family values, business succession plans or even provide financial education. Families with very young children might begin with topics as basic as allowances and chores.
Keep in mind that if a topic is emotionally charged, you might be better off beginning your meeting with a feel-good topic, like philanthropy. A positive discussion about charitable giving can break the ice and lay the groundwork for overall improved communication within the family.
If you’re planning to discuss a topic of significance, choosing a convenient and enjoyable vacation destination is important. The right location can really boost attendance and ensure a good time for all. You’ll find that more and more resorts are catering to the mutigenerational crowd. Once found only on cruise ships, family-friendly amenities from nanny services to teenage dances and senior socials are now commonplace at vacation destinations that range from beach resorts to dude ranches.
Many families embarking on a multigenerational vacation choose an all-inclusive beach resort in the Caribbean and Mexico because of the fixed price and kids’ programs. Florida’s Club Med Sandpiper, a rare all-inclusive within the United States, also offers a very impressive kids’ program. Adventures by Disney is another option for hassle-free guided group travel. If you’re a more active traveler, Backroads can help you plan scenic walks, hikes, or bike or kayak trips at popular destinations in the United States or around the world. And for grandparents travelling on their own with grandchildren, Road Scholar offers more than 100 educational tours throughout the United States, Europe, South America, Africa and Asia.
Once you’ve booked your trip, Wealth in Families offers plenty of questions to help prepare an agenda:
- Are you the kind of family you want to be?
- What are you teaching your children about money?
- What do you really want to do with your financial wealth?
Collier also offers the following meeting tips:
- Rotate the leadership of the meeting among family members.
- Give everyone input on the agenda.
- Meet at least once a year as an extended family, and more often with subset committees.
- Begin by talking about family stories, traditions, or history, before tackling more sensitive issues, such as estate planning.
- Hire an outside facilitator for emotionally charged or complex agendas.
Remember, although your legacy will include assets and family heirlooms, what your heirs will treasure the most are the fond memories of the time you shared together. So, make some memories this summer — and accomplish some planning tasks at the same time! Here are a few additional resources:
- Raising Kids Who Can: Using Family Meetings to Nurture Responsible, Cooperative, Caring and Happy Children by Betty Lou Bettner, Amy Lew
- Family Meetings: How to Build a Stronger Family and a Stronger Business Second Edition by Craig E. Aronoff, John L. Ward
Keep in mind, too, that I’m always available to answer questions, provide financial education to your family, or serve as moderator!