Purpose of MeetingsFamily meetings have a purpose that is often defined as informing the family on the status of their business, estate or mutual investments. Beneficiaries and stakeholders must be responsibly informed, a requirement which is seen as the primary value of a meeting by the professional investment, legal or tax advisor. A family member attending the meeting may see it the same way, yet may view the purpose more broadly. In the family members’ view a family meeting might also be a way to connect with family members, hear the views of others on essential issues, influence decisions, or get answers to questions that may lack other forums for discussion.
This additional value has not been lost on the trust and estate professionals who are called on to help organize family meetings. If they don’t inform and entertain, the meetings will become dull obligations to those who attend, or just slight sources of guilt to those who do not. In their efforts to make the meetings informative and valuable in the eyes of the family, for example, family office executives will enlist outside speakers and block out time on the agenda for social activities.
In addition to information and entertainment, a family meeting can serve the valuable purpose of building the strength of the family. Family meetings can provide proactive value in ways similar to shareholder agreements. “Prior agreements prevent future disagreements”, is a phrase that is often used when introducing or changing shareholder agreements. An attorney who makes this point to a family is recognising the value of proactively setting the stage for future harmony. If a family meeting is used in part for building a base of communication and understanding then this strength can serve the family quite well should the family’s harmony be later challenged.
Build RelationshipsFamily meetings also give families an opportunity to build strong relationships. With these relationships in place, families are in a better position to address sensitive and critical issues that formerly would have destroyed weaker relationships. This is the primary unifying phenomenon underlying the reason for gathering, and thus advisors who realize this are encouraging more family-oriented meetings.