Family get-togethers are few and far between these days. Weddings, birthdays, holidays, and other special events are continuing to pass us by. Once we can do so, I have no doubt that we will all pick up from where we left off, pre-pandemic. That said, another item to add to the list of “get-together reasons” is a Family Meeting. This event may not have the same fanfare as a wedding or birthday, but I can guarantee you, it is just as important. What is a Family Meeting, you ask? To illustrate it and its importance, I want to tell you about some clients of mine who agreed that their story should be shared.
Len and Elizabeth have been clients for as long as I can remember. It has been nearly thirty years since they retired. When you work with clients this long, they become like family.
Through the years, we have developed different tools to use with clients, including the Family Tree. The concept is to better understand and discuss our clients’ entire familial situation. Depending on age and or health, we determine if it may be time to introduce another tool called The Family Meeting.
Len and Elizabeth have three children and seven grandchildren. In our regular meetings, we discussed the concept of a Family Meeting with them a few times. One day Len came in and said, “I want to take you up on that family meeting thing.” So, we set it up. Both parents and all children were in attendance. And, as imagined, it was a great meeting. We discussed Len and Elizabeth’s financial situation so the kids would know what was going on. We discussed everyone’s role, from Powers of Attorney to executors. We also discussed the more challenging subjects – like if something went wrong and either Len or Elizabeth could not go back to a normal life. What measures should the kids take to try and prolong their lives? We even discussed funerals. Two hours later, we were done and had accomplished a lot. As they were walking out, Len pats me on the shoulder and says, “thank you, that meant so much to us.” Although it was completely unnecessary, Len and Elizabeth were so touched that they invited me out to dinner with the family at The Thornhill Golf Club. It was much appreciated and allowed me to speak with the family in a less formal setting.
About a year later, I received an unusual email from Elizabeth. The message was very disjointed. It said, “we are out of the country and have been in an accident.” At first, I was skeptical because the message had characteristics of emails we receive when a client’s email account has been hacked. Typically, there is a follow-up email asking us to transfer money to a foreign bank account. Yet, something seemed different about this one. I knew they were away in Florida like they are every year. I tried contacting them directly but didn’t get a response. Because of the Family Meeting we had conducted just a year prior, I had contact information for their son, so I called him. He let me know that his parents were in Florida and had been in a terrible car accident. Len had a broken back and was not conscious. Elizabeth also had severe injuries and was very disoriented. I was shocked that she could even draft an email, given the trauma she had been through.
Although the family was faced with this potentially devastating event, the Family Meeting had prepared Len and Elizabeth’s children for the challenges they were confronted with. Everyone knew their role, where to find important documents, what their parents wanted in terms of care and where to go for financial support and guidance.
This horrible accident happened at the end of April. Knowing Len and Elizabeth so well, I identified the need to file their tax returns on time. In working with their son to accomplish this, I helped to provide peace of mind so they could focus on what truly mattered.
I am happy to say this story has a happy ending. Both Len and Elizabeth have recovered. It has been a long and difficult road, but they are doing well. Len took me aside one day and thanked me again for bringing the family together for the Family Meeting. He said, “It really helped when things were at their worst.” He wanted their story to be shared to help others realize the benefits of the Family Meeting and the importance of doing it while everyone is still healthy.