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Insights

15 June 2020

What steps should my family take to communicate the event of my death or incapacity?

The sudden demise or death of a family member is extremely distressing. For those families who have business interests linked to the individual, there is the critical issue of communicating the news quickly and in the right way to other interested commercial parties, and relevant bodies eg stock exchanges.

As with the family charter, it can be helpful to agree what roles and responsibilities individuals in the family should take in communicating the news, which is in keeping with the family values.

If, for example, someone is in charge of family matters, what plans do they have in place to keep a log of where each member is located so they can share the news quickly? Do those in charge of financial and investment matters know who the bankers are, and do they have an open and clear dialogue with the investment and commercial advisers? And do those in charge of family capital transfers or income distributions have a relationship with your legal adviser?

Does someone know where the key legal documents are – your Will, your lasting powers of attorney, the family charter?  These are usually stored with your lawyer so it may make sense to ensure that you introduce other family members to your legal team in advance.

It is always helpful to have this agreed ahead of time and our link on setting up a family charter to identify individuals to handle this can be accessed here.

As a guide, we suggest families consider the following audiences when sharing any news:

  • Family members
  • Bankers and legal advisers, so they can put in place matters of financing and procedures
  • Investment and commercial advisers
  • The employees of any family businesses and family enterprises
  • Important buyers and key suppliers
  • Private equity partners and co-investors, owners and managers of investee companies
  • People and institutions dependant on regular distributions and patronage
  • The press / external contacts of interest – especially where this relates to any messaging around strength of the business, despite the demise, and overall image and values. Should the press release promote family and business values and community responsibility?

Without a plan, communication can be confused to these audiences, and inaccurate reporting by badly informed sources can impact the value of family businesses, damage reputations, and leave family members vulnerable to unwarranted approaches at a sensitive time. You may decide the family needs one person to “own the story” and you may also want to decide how you wish to be referred to in that story.

For a step by step guide on other practical tips beyond initial communication, in the absence of a family charter, please see our step by step guide here.

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