This article and other legal blogs have been shared by the attorneys of Willingham & Cote PC law firm.

Why Family Conferences?

Preparing documents is an important part of an estate plan, but it is really only a part of a plan. Making decisions – medical, financial, personal and legal – is an important part of aging but, again, is only part of a plan. A fully engaged plan for the second part of our lives can only come about when families come together to hear what seniors have to say about their healthcare choices, their living arrangements, their finances, as well as their wishes for their family.

A “family conference” structure is designed to help older adults make choices and to then help them be clear about these choices to their families. It also allows family members to be heard while being supportive of the wishes of their elder.Seven Steps to Having a Successful Family Meeting

  1. Get really clear on what the specific issue is that you want to discuss.  There may be a lot of thing that you want to discuss with your family, but it is best to pick on topic at a time.  Once your family has had one successful conversation, the next conversation is easier to think about.
  2. Invite the other participants to the conversation.  You may be ready to have a conversation, but are others?  It is a good idea to let your family know that you are interested in having a conversation, but then you should wait until they are ready to have the conversation as well.
  3. Find a common point of agreement among all participants as to what objective they want to reach.  The conversation that a family might want to address is “Should mom continue to drive?”  While mom and her children may disagree about the issue at hand, driving, they may be able to agree on something related, such as safety for other drivers and pedestrians.
  4. Before the meeting, look at your views on the topic to make sure that you are approaching the situation non-judgmentally and don’t have hidden agendas.  Once a common objective is found, stick to that objective.  If the objective is safety for other drivers and pedestrians, the cost of maintaining a car or the safety of your mother is not what is being discussed.
  5. Keep the discussion to the announced topic and focus on the common agreement.  Don’t let the conversation wander to other topics as this might prevent the main topic from being fully discussed.
  6. LISTEN – and when you think you have listened enough, listen some more.
  7. Be unattached to your predetermined solution.  Goodness knows I too often think that my solution is the only correct solution, but I have found that I am often wrong about this.  Be open to other solutions as the genius of the group can often open up solutions that one individual alone could never have imagined.


  • What are the types of living arrangements to provide for proper care?
  • How does one deal with medical information so that others can be of assistance?
  • What should one ask when choosing a care facility?
  • What is the difference between Medicare and Medicaid?
  • What does a DNR really mean and what questions should you be prepared to answer?
  • What types of medical problems are common with people as they age?
  • What are the stages of dementia?


  • How does one pay for assisted living, nursing or other types of care?
  • What are the potential benefits and problems with joint property?
  • How does financial fraud affect senior citizens?
  • What is estate tax, who has to pay it and how much is it?
  • What is long-term care insurance?

Family Structure (Personal Arrangements)

  • How do siblings/family members communicate regarding care of a parent/parents?
  • How do parents and children communicate so that boundaries between parent and child are respected?
  • How does a family approach the financial aspects of a parent/parents living with one of several siblings/family members?
  • How do families deal with non-independent adult children?
  • How do families prepare for funerals, cremation and other final instructions?


  • Do I need a will?
  • How does a trust differ from a will?
  • What powers are given when issuing a General Durable Power of Attorney?
  • Do I have a Medical Power of Attorney/Patient Advocate Designation?