Family meetings are often touted as an important, if not essential, tool to maintain communication and harmony in family businesses or families of wealth. Are they? And, if so, should you consider holding family meetings?
Family meetings can provide several benefits:
- Allow multiple generations to share their questions, thoughts, philosophies and expectations about the family business or family wealth, allowing all attendees to benefit firsthand from questions and answers. Doing so instills confidence that expectations and philosophies are known and understood.
- Create a forum for family communication, joint decision-making and conflict resolution. The meeting can be to establish rules for these areas, identify areas where training is needed (and then provide that training) or develop and practice skills.
- Create a sense of inclusion and an opportunity to be heard for those who are not active in, or are new to, the family business or family wealth.
- Provide a forum for customized education about wealth and to develop the skills to understand and manage that wealth.
- Allow the family to thoughtfully plan for future events, rather than react to events as they occur.
But, as with life, not all family meetings go as planned. Even with the best planning and best of intentions, family meetings are not all roses; they can result in feelings of isolation, distrust or resentment. Nonetheless, a benefit is that allowing these feelings to present gives the family an opportunity to address and hopefully ameliorate those feelings, rather than allowing the feelings to fester and grow.
Some situations where you might want to consider holding one or more family meetings include:
The family is facing a business transition or liquidity event, such as:
- Ownership or management transition to the next generation due to retirement, incapacity or death.
- Opportunity to diversify or expand the business.
- Opportunity to sell the business.
The family is experiencing a change in family dynamics, because of:
- Children reaching adulthood.
- Trusts distributing assets to beneficiaries.
- Family members marrying or divorcing.
- Family growth, with the addition of children, grandchildren, spouses or others.
- Incapacity or death of a parent.
- A different family member taking over management or ownership of the business.
- The family has difficulty communicating or a tendency toward conflict. In this case, it is strongly recommended to have a third party, someone with specialized training or experience in facilitating families through conflict, lead and moderate the meeting.
- The family has owners who do not work in, or are new to, the business.
New family members will be inheriting or introduced to wealth, due to:
- Distributions from trusts.
The family wants to pursue joint activities outside of the business, through:
- Real estate ownership.
- Boat or plane ownership.
- The family desires to have the history, culture and values of the family and/or business shared with the younger generations so that its legacy continues.
Creating constructive family meetings can take time and thought, but the benefits of family meetings can outweigh the effort. Reach out to your Warner attorney or Susie Meyers at 616.752.2184 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you are ready to start holding family meetings or ready to update your current meetings to adapt to your growing family’s needs.