and Melissa Geiser, CCCSOK.org Research Specialist
More adult children are concerned about Mom and Dad and their financial status, and they should be. Our parents are living longer than ever so, before something like dementia or a stroke makes a conversation about money next to impossible, the time to have that conversation is now.
It’s an uncomfortable subject for you because you don’t want your parents to think you’re prying or, even worse, that you’re greedy and looking for a way to get your hands on their hard earned money. But, what if they need your help or you could do something now to avoid problems in the future?
Most seniors dislike talking about their finances, especially with their children. As for their children, just getting the conversation started can be nerve-wracking. I’ve found that it’s best to have a plan in place before starting the conversation to keep everyone on track. The five steps that follow will help you and your parents have a conversation that benefits everyone concerned.
Step One. Plan a series of conversations so that your parents don’t feel overwhelmed. The more conversations you have with them about finances, the easier it will be to bring up in the future. Prepare four to seven key questions, such as, “Do you have enough money?” and plan on addressing these questions over time. Here are some other questions I would suggest:
What are your income sources?
Who is your financial advisor?
Are you using your savings for everyday expenses?
What is your plan or wishes if you get sick?
Do you have durable power of attorney?
Do you have a health care proxy?
Do you have a long-term care insurance policy?
Where do you keep your important financial documents?
Where do you keep your passwords?
Where will you live if you are no longer able to independently care for yourself?
Are you able to maintain your home?
How do you feel about moving closer to us?
Do you have a will? Have you reviewed it lately and does it reflect your current wishes?
Are your funeral wishes written down?
Step Two: Talk with your siblings. You shouldn’t do it all. Ask their opinion and share responsibilities. This is the time to iron out disagreements, ask and answer questions, and voice concerns. This will help you avoid or at least reduce potentially volatile family discussions and hurt feelings. Your parents need to know that it’s not just you who cares about them and has concerns; everyone is on board to ensure their well-being.
Step Three: Start the conversation right. Pick a low-key occasion, not a family event such as Thanksgiving dinner or Aunt Irma’s funeral. Everyone may be together but these are most definitely not the time or place. Here are some ways to start the conversation:
“I just completed a Health Care Proxy (if you have). Have you prepared one?”
“I finally got around to my will, have you done one lately?”
Use another’s experience. “Seeing how stressed Aunt Rose was after Uncle Bill died really got me thinking. Do you have a plan?”
Provide an article on a topic of concern. “I thought this article was really interesting and had some good points. I think you might like it, too.” That way the author is the expert, not you.
Step Four: Talk. Share your concerns. Start with health issues since they’re easier to talk about, then go into financial issues. It’s important that they know they’re in control. A good way to reinforce this is to say, for example, “The only way we can make sure you are in control, is if you share your wishes with us while you’re still in good health.”
Step Five: Listen. Your parents are most likely private people. Respect that. Offer your help and your opinions but remember, it’s their money.
CCCSOK.org is here to help you and your family navigate through some of your toughest financial decisions. We’re also happy to help you organize your budget so that you can feel more prepared for whatever the future holds. You can talk to one of our nationally certified counselors and access our website for free downloadable tools and answers to your questions.
Yes, talking with parents about these issues is tough, but the benefits for them, you, and your siblings, can be enormous. Also, don’t forget to check in on your own financial health; it helps if you have your own personal financial house in order.