Early in life, communication between mother, father and siblings begins … we could call it intuitive. All families have their own way of communicating. Some share details, while others cover the highlights, never discussing issues most important to them. Some discussions are open, like sharing what they did all day. Other topics are more private, like money.
The value of communicating about the meaning of money, and its impact on family life, surfaces early and stays for a lifetime. We do our best to tell our children "money doesn't grow on trees." But it's a hard thing to convey, because they haven't been there. How do we pass on the value of money, the rewards of using it wisely and the consequences if one does not?
Talking openly about money in our society has typically been forbidden. Families are allowed to talk or act around it (symbols of wealth like a new car, house, vacations), but rarely do parents engage in discussing the value of money and how it impacts the family entity.
We lived and grew up in a family that was an exception to this customary practice. Our father broke the rule. He would hold family meetings to talk about the mystery of money. When we asked what a "loan" was, he would explain about borrowing money. This family time communicating about finances and other important family values was vital to our success as adults.
By the time children become young adults, they have formed their own opinions about what money is all about. We have found that, in addition to the financial factors of wealth, the other side of the equation must be examined — the emotional side. This plays a major role in how families interact at later stages.
We have conducted family meetings to help share family values and begin a dialogue to clarify the family legacy. The goal is to identify the family founder's vision and share it with family members to perpetuate a healthy future family environment.
A family meeting can build a stronger bond between family members, identify the family founder's wishes, and develop a uniform "family mission statement" to carry on the family's wishes for generations. Members can plan their futures with additional certainty, and family assets can be managed more effectively.
The family meeting is a communication tool. You may think to yourself, "I've been communicating with my children their whole life." You have. But when it comes to sensitive issues, we tend to leave out the important stuff.
The family meeting should be conducted by an independent facilitator familiar with family dynamics. They would not get emotionally involved with the meetings. This role ensures open dialogue leading to win-win solutions for the whole family.
Family meetings can be held in a setting most accommodating for family members. This can be a time when all generations come together. Though not all generations or in-laws may participate in the actual meeting itself, it encourages an environment that cultivates how the family works and plays together.
Kim Ciccarelli Kantor is president and founder of Ciccarelli Advisory Services Inc., a family owned and operated firm in Florida and New York. It provides comprehensive financial investment and estate planning services for individuals, families and businesses. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (239) 262-6577.