Background: Palliative care focuses on supporting patients diagnosed with advanced, incurable disease; it is 'family centered', with the patient and their family (the unit of care) being core to all its endeavours. However, approximately 30-50 % of carers experience psychological distress which is typically under recognised and consequently not addressed. Family meetings (FM) are recommended as a means whereby health professionals, together with family carers and patients discuss psychosocial issues and plan care; however there is minimal empirical research to determine the net effect of these meetings and the resources required to implement them systematically. The aims of this study were to evaluate: (1) if family carers of hospitalised patients with advanced disease (referred to a specialist palliative care in-patient setting or palliative care consultancy service) who receive a FM report significantly lower psychological distress (primary outcome), fewer unmet needs, increased quality of life and feel more prepared for the caregiving role; (2) if patients who receive the FM experience appropriate quality of end-of-life care, as demonstrated by fewer hospital admissions, fewer emergency department presentations, fewer intensive care unit hours, less chemotherapy treatment (in last 30 days of life), and higher likelihood of death in the place of their choice and access to supportive care services; (3) the optimal time point to deliver FM and; (4) to determine the cost-benefit and resource implications of implementing FM meetings into routine practice. Methods: Cluster type trial design with two way randomization for aims 1-3 and health economic modeling and qualitative interviews with health for professionals for aim 4. Discussion: The research will determine whether FMs have positive practical and psychological impacts on the family, impacts on health service usage, and financial benefits to the health care sector. This study will also provide clear guidance on appropriate timing in the disease/care trajectory to provide a family meeting. Trial registration: Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry ACTRN12615000200583.