jon kajiBy JON KAJI

In the last article, we took a look at the typical Nikkei family and how real estate represents the most significant part of the family’s holdings.

Today, the focus shifts to how best to manage this and other “money matters” in the family. It starts with communication between the family members.

Okay, okay, I recognize that within each family, there are certain “dynamics” that make it difficult to discuss such matters. There are sibling rivalries, generational tension (“My kids are only waiting for me to kick off so they can spend what I’ve built up!”). There are some heads of family who don’t want to share any information of what exists in the family estate, perhaps for fear of inciting rivalries.

We get it, we’ve been there. We’re sure that our Rafu readers have either seen or heard of such problems with friends or relatives.

Yet, we do believe that it’s in a family’s best interests to begin the discussion about money and family wealth early, rather than later. Consider the annual and regular discussion to be like preventative health care, as a means to head off any misunderstandings early before they become nasty and emotional.

Here are some ideas as a starting point:

  1. Have the family members pick one individual to chair the meeting; pick another to take the minutes of the meeting and to distribute the minutes and the agenda to all family members.
  1. Send an agenda in advance of the meeting. It doesn’t have to be a detailed or lengthy agenda. It would be great to focus on one or two issues (“Should we sell or lease the family house?”)
  1. Agree on a day and time that would be convenient for everyone. For us, we usually hold the family meetings around the holidays, when all the family are together.
  1. Find an expert. If there’s a specific issue facing the family, invite an expert to make a short presentation to the family.
  1. Open the family discussion, with some ground rules. While it may sound a little ponderous and “too much,” Robert’s Rules of Order is helpful. This will help to ensure that everyone can participate, that there’s a good flow throughout the meeting and that everyone adheres to “the rules.”
  1. Vote … and act! Put the issue to a vote and then act accordingly. Assign the task or tasks to those family members who volunteer to take ownership of the issue and will report back to the family on the outcome.
  1. Remember, this is business! You can talk after the meeting about your last vacation, the grandkids, the one that got away, etc. Keep an eye on the clock and the focus on the business at hand.
  1. Technology is your friend. Use of Skype, Google+, Go to Meeting or any number of communication applications will allow those who cannot meet in person to participate. And, if you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, ask your kids (or grandkids!).

If you should need my input in helping you move the discussion forward, please let me know!

Jon Kaji is president of Kaji & Associates, a real estate firm based in Gardena. He is a member of the Board of Governors of the Japanese American National Museum and a member of the Board of Directors of the International Visitors Council of Los Angeles. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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