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At some point, we, and our parents, realize the need to look ahead at an uncertain future. To make the most of their opportunities and resources, to create an acceptable scenario for all family members, we need to get together with our parents and siblings and talk things over – more than once.

The first time we do this, perhaps groggy with L-tryptophan following a big helping of Thanksgiving turkey, we are likely to find ourselves like the blind men and the elephant. That first talk may help us realize that our different perspectives come from knowing different things as well as from having different needs and assumptions. It’s only after realizing this that we can really get down to business.

Guidelines for Family Meetings

Christine Lesher, a Houston elder law attorney, has a good set of guidelines for subsequent family meetings.

  1. “Set ground rules, such as meeting length and a reasonable “to do” list.
  2. “Everyone who has an interest should be included in the discussion.
  3. “Everyone should be encouraged to participate so that no one can later say, ‘I didn’t get to talk.”
  4. “Listen ‘generously.’ Remember that there is usually more than one way to solve a crisis.
  5. “Take notes so that things can be sorted out later; and ideas can be written down if more though is needed.
  6. “Obtain the help of an objective, outside party if needed – contact a social worker who is a trained mediator and able to help families negotiate sensitive issues with a goal to having the best possible outcome.
  7. “If anger crops up, suggest a break so folks can “cool off” and hopefully come back to the table a little more willing to work through the challenges.
  8. “Be willing to compromise – rarely does anyone get to have his or her way all the time and on every point.
  9. “Agree to disagree without being “disagreeable” if at all possible – common courtesy and civility does matter in keeping things positive in family discussions.
  10. “Have more than one meeting, if needed and appropriate, so that ideas can be explored, phone calls made, and new facts presented before a final decision is made.
  11. “End the meeting by affirming what was decided, what is left to be decided, and who is going to do what before the next meeting.
  12. “Set up a time for the next meeting, if needed.”*

For information on specific topics, see “Resources for Older Americans” and “Resources for Family Caregivers” at

*Christina Lesher, “What to Look for in Preliminary Discussions About Medicaid Planning,” State Bar of Texas, Handling Your First (or Your Next) Medicaid Application December 2015, Chapter 2, pp. 5-6.

Terry Garrett is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is active in the Texas and Austin Bar Associations. She graduated with honors from Cornell University. She was on the Dean’s List at Wharton Business School. She earned her J.D. at Columbia Law School, receiving the Parker Award and a Mellon Fellowship.

She assists families of people with special needs, people planning for the retirement years and people administering estates.

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