Key tools and tips on how to talk to your aging parents about money AND feel good.
Did you know that fifty-four percent of adults admit that they would rather have the mortifying ‘birds and the bees’ talk with their kids than bring up money topics with their aging parents?
It’s likely been true that since you were a kid, there were some topics that you weren’t so keen to talk about with your parents. Beyond the keen discomfort of talking about sex, the topic that most challenges parents and kids at any age is money.
Remember how you responded as a teen when your mom wanted you to account for what happened to your allowance or babysitting money? As parents age, though many of the roles reverse, conversations about money often feel just as awkward as they did back then.
In fact, it can even feel more uncomfortable now, especially for parents who were brought up in a generation that was raised to not talk about finances with their children.
However, once your parents reach the age where their health, safety, memory loss or ability to care for themselves is in question— having the money talk is essential. Never fear, the tips outlined below can help you get over the awkwardness and create an open and loving dialogue with your parents.
Begin before it’s necessary
You may be thinking that you’re a long way off from needing to have this conversation, but this is exactly the time to begin. Starting the conversation before its necessary will allow you to tread gently and take your time understanding their finances, and to determine with them what involvement you’ll need to take over time.
Decide on your goals
It is important to begin knowing what you desire to get out of the initial conversation and what decisions are necessary overall. What outcome will help relieve your stress and help you breathe easier knowing that your parent’s finances are in good hands? Identifying these goals in advance can help create a structure and timeline for the conversations ahead.
Have the right people involved
Unless you are an only child or unpartnered, there are others who may need or want to be a part of this conversation. Keep in mind though that having too many participants may make things feel intimidating or embarrassing for your parents. You know them best.
It’s important to make an unbiased decision to include only the individuals who have the closest and most open relationship with them and who have the communication skills to handle the delicate topic with ease.
No matter who is a part of the initial conversation, it is important to make sure all involved parties maintain an open flow of information. To avoid misunderstandings, it is vital to ensure your parents are aware of who will be kept in the loop. This is so they don't feel that private information is shared with anyone without permission.
Ease Your Way in
In the time leading up to the larger conversation, begin introducing the topic of money into other, non-threatening conversations. Tell stories of friends, suggest books or programs, or ask open-ended questions that may get your parents thinking more on the topic. For instance, you could ask how their friends and peers are handling their finances during their senior years.
It’s important to choose a time when your parents are not stressed, rushed or distracted. If at all possible, pick a time when they are in good health. The fact is, eighty-five percent of long-term care decisions are made during a medical crisis, which is a far from an ideal time to be pushed to make major decisions or have uncomfortable conversations.
Avoid holidays, birthdays or times of travel or transition. Anything that adds to the stress or confusion will make the conversation harder to have.
Tell them in advance there is something you would like to talk to them about and ask “is X a good time?” As with all of us, being taken by surprise does not leave a lot of room for good communication.
Keep it light and full of love
When the time comes for a more formal discussion, the last thing you want to do is to come in full steam ahead.
Avoid beginning by asking pointed questions of your parents about their assets, savings, or financial plans for the future, which may put them on the defensive or cause them to shut down.
Instead, start with a story or anecdote - for instance, about a friend whose parents passed away unexpectedly leaving no financial direction or share details about your own choices around financial or estate planning with your children. Sharing details of your own finances can help open doors to help your parents feel more comfortable doing the same.
Continue by opening the door for your parents to share if they have made any arrangements or wishes for retirement, housing, or estate planning.
Grounding everything in your care and concern for your parents will help guide the conversation on a positive note, acknowledge their potential discomfort and remind them that your questions are rooted in love and concern for their well being. Here, your own knowledge of your parent’s personalities will come in handy, think of how they typically handle difficult or uncomfortable conversations and what is most helpful to help them relax and open.
Keep your desires reasonable and get rid of any expectations
It is unlikely that your parents will go from keeping their finances completely private to willingly sharing all of the details in a single conversation.
For instance, instead of expecting that your parents will immediately give you full access and involvement in all financial matters, perhaps begin by requesting to be a part of the monthly bill-paying process so that you can become aware of what obligations are in place. In any case, if you feel their resistance, be patient and give them time to process your requests.
Expect some pushback
It’s not unusual, especially in the case of parents who are already experiencing some dementia or memory issues, to respond with resistance or suspicion to your attempts to obtain financial information. They may not fully understand why you would need what they have always treated as private information, or may not fully recognize their compromised ability to handle their finances without help. Pride and confusion can play a role in this reaction, and it’s important to be prepared.
Remember, this is not about you, it’s about them.
Leave the control in their hands where possible
One of the challenging parts about aging is dealing with the loss of control. Even if parent’s realize they need more support, it can be difficult to face. Reassure them that you are not attempting to take over, simply offering your help. Whenever possible, leave the control over what and when to address in their hands, demonstrating your support and assistance while honoring their need for autonomy. Positioning your support as helping them with a difficult or time-consuming task (like tax preparation) to leave them more time for things they enjoy, like spending time with grandchildren, can help ease the transition.
Get it in writing
The National Institute on Aging recommends that adult children who may be in a caregiving role obtain advance written consent that allows financial affairs to be discussed with doctors, financial representatives and government officials. Without this type of documentation, privacy laws may prevent barriers to essential conversations.
Key areas of information you’ll need:
- Location and access to important documents, including health and life insurance, mortgage, birth certificates, deeds, trusts and wills.
- A list of all contacts, account numbers, passwords (a great free tool for passwords is https://www.lastpass.com/).
- Monthly bills and creditors, amounts and how they are paid (online or by check, etc. )
- Wishes around moving into a Senior Living community when desired or necessary and any financial plans in place for this transition. Current financial arrangements for future senior care needs.
Simply, simplify, simplify
As is often the case with seniors, they may not be handling their financial affairs in the easiest and most efficient ways. For instance, many seniors still reply on paying bills in person or by check when online or automated payments or deposits would make things easier and much more sense. They may also be paying for services they do not need or use out of habit. A household budget view can help identify places that money can be saved or redistributed.
Keep things separate
Once you begin taking on some of the tasks of financial management for your parents, it may feel easier to begin paying bills and handling obligations from your own accounts. However, this can be a slippery and confusing slope as your parents continue to age, and it is always wise to keep your personal funds and assets separate from your parent’s.
Know when you need help
If your parents will not open up or are confused or unaware (as if often the case when a spouse who handled financial agreements has passed), you may need to call in a financial advisor with a specialty in senior living.
Know when it’s time for immediate intervention
It’s always best to take a gradual and gentle approach, but sometimes changes happen quickly and unexpectedly. How do you know when it’s time to step in without delay?
Unopened mail or creditor calls
If your parents are normally conscientious and you suddenly notice they have stopped opening mail or answering calls it may be a sign they are no longer able to handle their monthly finances.
Unusual or unexpected purchases
Are your parents suddenly making unusual or unnecessary purchases locally, online or from telemarketers who call? Seniors are often vulnerable to scams, so these behaviors are especially concerning.
Sudden concern about finances or purchases
On the flip side, if your parents suddenly appear excessively concerned about money, unusually frugal or avoiding regular purchases, there also may be issues that need your attention.
Physical changes, illnesses or injury
Any physical changes that make normal activities challenging can impact your parent’s ability to handle their finances without help. Vision issues, problems impacting the ability to drive, or arthritis and/or chronic pain can all have a detrimental effect and require your assistance.
Changes to memory or cognition
Any evidence of memory failure or dementia is an immediate cause for concern and an indicator of the need to step in financially.
- Unopened mail or creditor calls
At Keystone, we understand that stepping into a new role in your parent’s finances can be a challenging transition, especially if one of the primary goals is to ensure that financial plans are in place for a Senior Living Community or care at some point in the future.
Do you need help establishing access to the financial aspects needed to cover the expenses of Retirement Living regardless if it Independent Living, Assisted Living or Memory Care? Check out our other financial blog posts, or contact one of our helpful Senior Living Counselors for personalized help.