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Family Meetings: Fostering Communication and Transparency about Estate Plans

May 8, 2024 - By: Richard P. Breed, III

Estate planning is a significant undertaking that can have lasting repercussions for an individual's loved ones. However, despite its importance, the process and its results are often shrouded in mystery, leading to confusion, hurt feelings, or even legal battles after a family member passes away. To avoid such outcomes, fostering open communication and transparency through family meetings can be invaluable. Here's how they can help.

Creating a Shared Understanding

Family meetings provide a platform for explaining the components of the estate plan. By discussing the will, trusts, power of attorney, and healthcare directives, family members can gain a comprehensive understanding of the estate plan’s structure and the reasoning behind the design decisions.

These gatherings allow family members to voice their expectations and concerns. That dialogue may lead to necessary adjustments in the estate plan to address any issues and ensure that the final plan is reflective of a collective family understanding, thereby reducing the potential for disputes.

Family meetings are an educational tool for heirs and successors. They offer a chance to explain the roles and responsibilities that come with inheriting assets or implementing the estate plan, preparing those beneficiaries for the future.

By discussing the estate plan while the senior generation is still alive, misunderstandings can be cleared up immediately, preventing conflicts, encouraging dialogue, and helping to maintain family harmony.

Cultivating Trust Among Family Members

Family meetings are also an opportunity to impart important family values and legacies, ensuring that these are carried forward in the way assets are distributed and used. Transparency cultivates trust.

When family members understand the estate plan and the process behind it, they are more likely to trust that it is fair and well thought out. That said, estate plans are not static. Family meetings can set the precedent for ongoing communication, making it easier to update the estate plan as circumstances change.

Ensuring Smooth Succession

By clearly outlining the succession plan, family members know what to expect and are better prepared to take on their roles when the time comes, ensuring a smooth transition.

Family meetings can be used to discuss potential future scenarios and contingencies. This helps everyone to prepare for various possibilities, reducing shock and rash decisions during difficult times.

Bringing in legal and financial advisors to family meetings can provide clarity on the legal and other components of the estate plan, ensuring that all members are informed about tax consequences, legal obligations, investments, and other technical details.

To make the most of family meetings, it’s essential to approach them with care. Choose a comfortable setting, prepare for the meeting with an agenda, and consider using a neutral third party to facilitate the discussion. It’s also crucial to be sensitive to family dynamics and to strive for inclusivity, making sure that all voices are heard.

Family meetings can be a powerful tool in estate planning. They foster an environment of openness and clarity, which can be instrumental in ensuring that an individual’s final wishes are carried out with the understanding and support of the whole family. Such meetings not only prevent legal battles, but also strengthen family bonds during the difficult times that follow the loss of a loved one.

Richard P. Breed, III is a partner at Tarlow Breed Hart & Rodgers, P.C. in Boston, Mass. Please connect with Rick at