Follow these guidelines for a productive get-together with all members of the family.

  1. Circulate an agenda ahead of time to allow family members to add items to the agenda. No surprises are allowed at the meeting. Make sure that sharing your passion for why you own the property is an agenda item!
  2. Disclose any conflicts of interest or interfamily financial arrangements. You must build an environment of transparency and disclosure so that people know what is going on. This helps to stop the rumor mill and builds trust.
  3. Disclose on the agenda what decisions are expected to be made at the meeting and what decision-making model will be used. There are three basic decision-making models: advise and consent (we advise, Dad decides); majority rule (by person or by ownership); and consensus (everyone has to agree). Each model has its place and is appropriate for certain types of decisions.
  4. If significant travel is involved in getting to the meeting, consider having the business pay for it. Also, select a meeting space where you will not be distracted or interrupted.
  5. Limit the business portion of the meeting to business owners only and set a time limit for the meeting. Start and end on time!
  6. Use the business meeting as an opportunity to teach the members about the "business" of the business - how you make decisions and, more importantly, why you made the decisions. They need the benefit of both your experience and your value system. Involve the owners in the important decisions that need to be made for the future. Recap the last meeting and what actions were taken as a result of that meeting. Expect and encourage members to think and act as owners and engage their minds and hearts in your vision for the property. Allow them to add their own ideas to yours as you move forward together.
  7. Hold a separate family meeting where spouses are invited (if they are not owners) to discuss how the family will interact with the property. Spend time to get to know each other as adults. Reserve a room at a local restaurant and go around the table letting each person share what is happening in their lives, what is important to them and what successes and challenges they have had since the last time you got together.
  8. Follow up after the meeting to remind people what decisions were made and give periodic progress reports on the results of those actions. Tangible results will encourage more participation in the future.

- C.B.

Bentz, Clint. "Estate Planning: Ensuring the Future of Your Legacy." Tree Farmer July/August 2005: 6 - 10.

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