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Family Business

oldest child is in the eighth grade, most of the school-related discussions are about supplementing their children’s current education with existing programs offered within the community.

For the Williamses, it’s only a matter of time before they bring the children along on the family retreat. “As they get older, we have to include them,” explains Paul. “We’re sitting around dealing with financial issues — that wasn’t part of my upbringing. I didn’t get involved with the nuts and bolts of a budget until I was a grown man, and that’s a disadvantage to our youth.” Paul doesn’t want to wait until his children are in their 20s to expose them to the family’s finances.

“The only way we’re going to be prepared as a family unit is to plan, and this means having serious conversations,” says White. His wife, Jeannine, is an officer in his company, therefore the Whites understand the benefits of a family business retreat.

No family retreat is official without an agenda; it helps keep discussions on track. The agenda ensures that the family discusses the items that need to be dealt with. This is the document members will use to help guide topic discussions and plan for the future.

The Williamses typically have an agenda outlining the primary focus of the retreat. Depending on what’s going on in the house, that focus might shift from time to time. Paul likes his family agenda items to start with finances, followed by (though not necessarily in this order): the children, the household, estate planning, and vacations. The agenda can include a time frame for various discussions, breaks, and lunch (see sidebar). “We know we have a limited number of hours to spend on this, so we try to have an agenda where we have a time frame identified for each topic, and we try to stick to the time frame,” Paul says. “[Since] it’s just my wife and me, it’s easy to get sidetracked, but we try to keep it as close to a regular business meeting as we can by moving the agenda. It keeps us on track.”

Although the mission of the Meeks family business retreat was to focus on the care of our aging parents (my father is 80 and my mother is 78), we had several line items that discussed basic financial and property issues. We set the foundation for a “board of directors” of sorts, designating our absent parents as co-CEOs. We established our roles in keeping our parents’ estate intact, much like a company owner creating a “plan of succession.”

In 55 years of marriage, our parents had accumulated a modest degree of wealth, which we didn’t want to see squandered. They own three houses in our hometown of Louisville, Kentucky (one of which has already been allotted to a brother), a small farm, and joint ownership of a plot of land, both in my mother’s home state of Tennessee.

Concerning the primary item on our agenda, care of our parents should their health suddenly deteriorate,

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