It is up to you to decide to what extent you want to involve your family in determining the future of your land. Every family’s situation is different. If you do want to include your family and ensure that your decisions about the land will meet their needs, good family communication is crucial.
Having a family conversation about the future of the family land can be very difficult. Talking about your eventual death can be uncomfortable and is often compounded by family dynamics that make it difficult for families to have these kinds of conversations.
Beginning these conversations now is necessary to be able to agree on answers to questions regarding the future of the land. Involving your family from the beginning and getting their buy-in to the plan can make for a better solution for all those involved and help avoid conflict when you are gone.
We are launching a new pilot program offering free professional facilitation assistance to a select group of families. A professional facilitator will work with individual members of your family to clarify their goals and objectives for the land. There is limited space available. Download an application.
Holding a Family Meeting
An excellent first step to engaging your family in deciding the future of your land it so convene a family meeting. The goal of the meeting is to give family members the chance to communicate their personal feelings about the land and their needs. By doing this you can gain a better understanding of the needs of your family, allowing you to develop an estate plan to address them without having to guess or to “let the kids fight it out” after you are gone.
Below are some tips for holding a comfortable and productive family meeting:
When? It often takes years to complete the estate planning process. Waiting until your family is grieving or dealing with health issues in not the time to start planning. The time to start is now!
Ideally, your family meeting will not coincide with a holiday or family celebration. Separating the traditions and pressures of a holiday or celebration from the business of estate planning can ease some tensions and create the right tone for these conversations
Who? It is best to err on the side of inclusiveness, especially at the beginning of the process. Extending invitations to all family members, including spouses, ensures everyone will hear the same information first hand.
If you have a family member who does not want to be involved in the meeting, do your best to get them there by letting them know you value their opinion and would like to hear their thoughts. It can also be helpful to include them in away that will make them feel more comfortable, for example if they like to cook, ask them to help with food or if they know the land well, ask them to lead a hike.
Where? Do your best to have you initial family meeting in person. The meeting should be held in a neutral place where everyone feels comfortable. This could be your home, but could also be a restaurant or conference room if your home is not a neutral location for everyone. If the meeting is near the land, visiting or walking it together before the meeting is a good opportunity to see the land and reflect on what the land means to each of them.
How to Prepare? Collect information about your land before the meeting can help inform the conversations by answering questions people may have. Download "Your Land, Your Legacy" for a checklist of suggested information to collect.
Communicating with Your Family
The goal of the first family meeting is to give each family member the opportunity to express what the land means to him/her and what his/her financial or practical needs are. This can be accomplished by simply asking each person to talk about the/she feels about the land. Is it a priceless family legacy to be protected at all costs? Is it a financial asset and nothing more? Or is it something in between?
By listening to these comments, family members may learn they share common feelings and needs. The differences are also important to know. Together, this is information that can guide your next steps and inform your work with estate planning professionals.
This is also a great opportunity for you to share with your family your feelings about the land. Communicating with your children about what the lands means to you may help them make decisions about the land in the future by using your feelings as a guide.
As you discuss your family’s goals and needs, develop a list of questions and information needed to take the next step in deciding the future of the land.
Defining the next step
Maintaining momentum is very important. Take the list of questions and information needs developed at the meeting and assign people and timelines to specific next steps to help ensure that the effort is moving forward.
Convening Future Meetings
How long the estate planning process takes is really up to you and the family. If your goal is to have your family reach consensus about the future of the land, this may require more than one meeting. While everyone is together, the family should agree on how family members should meet and communicate in the future.
As the meetings move forward and the family works to figure out a particular aspect of the estate plan (e.g., land conservation, tax implications), it may be helpful to have an estate planning professional present who can provide technical information and suggestions as well as answers. Find an estate planning professional.
Moving Forward Despite Family Disagreements
Your goal may be to keep your family in agreement about the future of the land throughout the entire process. However, despite your best intentions and efforts, there may be situations where families are not able to work together or agree on a plan. In these cases, you need to be prepared to take the input you have received, work with the necessary estate planning professionals, and do what you believe is right for yourself,your family, and the land.