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The Durfee Family Council in this sketch could have been based on actual Family Councils my family has held.  Its charts, tripods, business agenda, candid performance reviews, bad news delivery, weird humor, conflict resolution, and parental double teaming are very familiar to my children.  It is no accident that it is about a “Durfee” Family meeting.  Of all the principals I have explained or taught to my clients as an attorney, none has been more important or powerful than the role of Family Councils.

Family Councils are perhaps the most important part of any effective succession plan.  The trouble is, most of us don’t even know what Family Councils are let alone their power for good and/or how to conduct them.

Family Councils:  The Most Important Part of Any Estate or Succession Plan

Family Councils are a key indicator of where your family will end up in the long run.  The way your family interacts with each other right now, tells you the direction you are going.  If you don’t like that direction, change.  Start with Family Council.  If you have family councils while you are living, it dramatically increases the probability that your children will continue with them when you are gone.

Some families thrive and grow over time with increased unity and prosperity, while others fade away, break apart and decline into oblivion.  Knowing why and understanding how to emulate successful families is vital if we hope to “live well, and leave a legacy.”  No amount of dynastic wealth can compensate for a broken or dysfunctional family.  When the family breaks, existing wealth is destroyed or falls through the cracks, and the means to produce more wealth is sabotaged.  Ultimately, to prosper, the family must thrive both in the unity of its relationships and in its economic and intellectual output.  Such family unity and prosperity is obtained deliberately, not accidentally or in ignorance.

Your family will thrive only for as long as Family Councils are part of your family culture and tradition.

How do you create a family legacy or dynasty of strong healthy relationships supported by expanding wealth that lasts and increases indefinitely for generations?  Whatever else you do, your Family Council will be a crucial element and point of implementation.  The reason Family Councils make such a big difference is that they are far more than a way to address the issues of this world.  The whole concept of Family Councils is deeply spiritual and transcends mortality.  When we hold Family Council, we are re-enacting the Divine Archetype.  We are doing with our children what the Gods do with Theirs.

The Purpose

The function of Family Councils is not just the immediate needs and concerns of the family, but the long term health, preservation and prosperity of the family.  The ideal objectives or goals of Family Councils will include:

  • Immediate needs and concerns of family members
  • Long term healthy relationships of family members
  • Multi-generational prosperity, resilience, and self-reliance
  • Skill development and transfer
    • Financial/Economic skills
    • Practical living skills
    • Dispute avoidance and resolution
    • History – creating a record
    • Teaching Values & Family Culture
    • Exemplifying Leadership

The Agenda

There is no specific script or format for Family Councils.  The way you run your Family Council will change over time as your family evolves.  It may be formal like a corporate board meeting or informal like a spontaneous meal time conversation.  A number of organizations provide specific guidelines and principals to assist in deciding how to run Family Councils.  You may want to focus on consensus and communication.  This is one example of how Family Council’s might be run:

  • Opening:  welcome, song, prayer, other traditional or religious observances
  • Devotional or Lesson
  • Recognition:  birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations, accomplishments
  • Family Reports:  updates on what is going on in people’s lives
  • Family Business, Calendaring, Planning & Coordinating
  • Address Special Events, Issues, Problems or Concerns
  • Game or activity
  • Closing:  summary remarks, song, prayer, or other traditional or religious observances
  • Treats (any gathering is improved if there is something good to eat)
  • Afterglow

The Roles

Ideally, a family is neither a democracy where every citizen has a vote, nor a dictatorship with top-down unilateral command.  A high functioning family is more like a living body of a complex organism, with each part performing an essential function and communicating with all the other parts.

The mother and father are not the “boss” of Family Councils.  They are the parents.  There is gigantic difference.  The parents preside.  The whole family participates.  Each family member may take turns conducting, teaching, leading discussions, or addressing concerns and business.  Part of the process of Family Council is to model respectful behavior among children, parents, and grandparents.  In the Family Council context, the role of the parent is often to be a facilitator that empowers other family members to speak, express needs and concerns, and participate meaningfully in collective decisions.

A word of warning:  if you teach your children to be strong, independent, self-reliant, and productive, they will be.  That means they will have their own opinions, their own goals, their owns lives, and they will make their own decisions, whether you like it or not.  Imagine how powerful it is when strong capable people come together in a family out of choice rather than out of mutual dependency or in compliance with asserted authority.

One of the important reasons to recognize that parents serve a function far greater than being the “boss” is that in mortality the parents of one generation are only present for a brief time, then the next generation is in that position.  Family Councils are a highly effective way to prepare successive generations for its inevitable but transitory term to preside.

The Decision Making Process

In the Family Council, reliance upon top down authority to mandate decisions is rarely if ever effective.  The purpose is to engage the entire family in a collective decision and consensus making process.

  • Clearly identify the goal, problem, concern or issue that requires a decision (do we move to a different state for a new job or stay where we are?)
  • Identify the available options (great discussions begin with the question, “do you know what your choices are?”)
  • Ask for input and comment from every family member, and listen closely to their statements
  • Formulate the consensus as it developes as a proposed decision or desired outcome
  • Seek inspiration and divine guidance in the entire process
  • Adjust the proposed decision based on the input of all concerned
  • Give everyone involved time as needed to weigh and consider the consequences of the decision
  • Ask each individual family member if they are willing to support the decision

The Next Step

I recommend that all my clients and readers hold regular Family Councils.  Start now.

What is your earliest childhood memory?  I remember my parents gathering me and my siblings together to sing songs, tell stories, wrestle on the floor, read out-loud, sit still and focus on the sacred, kneel in a circle to pray, share hugs and kisses, and have special treats.  As a child I did not know this was a Family Council.  I just thought that was what it meant to be a family.  Any time there was a crisis, emergency, or big decision, my parents called us together to discuss the issues, express and listen to each other’s feelings, and come to a consensus.  When we moved, had another child, changed schools, had sibling conflict, planned the weekly menu, assigned chores, cleaned up the back yard, dealt with an illness, sent someone off to college, accepted a foster child into our home, or committed to anything, we dealt with it first in a Family Council.  It was like self-healing therapy on the fly — deal with and resolve issues as you keep moving forward.

I am the oldest of 12 children.  My parents have now passed beyond the veil.  As adults with families of our own, my siblings and I still hold regular monthly family councils.  We rotate houses.  The attendance is rarely 100% any more.  As we spread out and have multiple generations to coordinate with, it becomes more difficult for us all to gather at the same time and place.  But those who can, show up, and those who can’t are missed and remembered.

Holding Family Council was part of the culture and expectation as I came to adulthood and started my own family with my wife.  From the very beginning, even when my wife and I were just a couple, we have held council.

Start by scheduling a Family Council.  A dear friend my mine would often say, “you can create any reality you want by putting an event on the calendar.”

If you don’t hold Family Councils, the money you spend on estate planning to avoid probate and taxes will be wasted.  Make your planning count!

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