A Checklist for How to Deal with Your Aging Parents' Finances
Talking money with your parents.
October 23, 2018 5 min read
It’s a simple fact of adulthood. Eventually, you may need to have serious conversations with your aging parents about money. Their money. And as the elderly population booms across the United States—it’s projected to double by 20601—these conversations are only becoming more common and more crucial.
This inevitable process can be challenging, stressful and even a little awkward. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Here are some things you can do to navigate the challenges of helping your parents stay financially secure.
Start with yourself
Before you address your parents’ finances, it’s important that your own finances are organized. This will not only give you credibility with your parents, but it may even rub off on them. Melanie Lockhart, women’s money guru and author of Dear Debt, has written that she inspired her mom to pay down her debt simply by paying down her own (and making sure her mom knew about her triumphs).2 So before you address your parents, make sure your own savings are in order.
Along with your finances, make sure to prepare yourself emotionally. Researchers believe it’s important to know how you feel about your parents’ financial challenges, whether frustrated, angry or sad, so you don’t process those emotions mid-conversation.3 This will allow you to focus on the goal at hand—helping your parents—rather than your own feelings.
The right time, place and manner to ask
After decades of being in charge, your parents may be hesitant to open up about their finances. So it’s important for you and your siblings to be thoughtful about how and when you approach them. It can be good to wait for them to come to you, although both parents and children are often reluctant to bring up the topic, according to industry professionals.4 "If you're lucky, your parents are happy if you offer to help," AARP’s Amy Goyer told the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority last year. "Or, you might get the reaction that this is none of your business."
If your parents seem reluctant, you might follow the advice of financial professionals who help elderly people and their kids: If you plan to approach them, find a time when you’re alone and there’s not much on their agenda, to avoid embarrassing them or stressing them out. (If you have siblings, make sure to include them in the conversation if possible.) And give them some time to consider whether they want to discuss it with you at all. You might catch them off guard, but the pros say that revisiting the conversation later may allow them to see the value of it.
Stay away from “you”
Hopefully, your parents are financially healthy and these conversations just help everyone get on the same page. But if you’re stepping in to work on your aging parents’ financial checklist, it’s possible they have fallen behind, gotten disorganized or are having trouble remembering certain things. If that’s the case, it’s important to use language that doesn’t make them feel bad about it, which could risk them shutting you out.
Experts suggest leaning heavily on “I” statements. (“I’m worried about,” “I want to make sure that,” etc.) Steer clear of “you” statements, like, “You need to pay down your debt.” Start with “I” to avoid family financial stress and make sure your parents know you’re not casting blame on them. "I want to support you" is a good place to start, according to Goyer.4
Have an agenda and stick with it
Depending on your situation, you might be hoping to tackle any number of topics with your parents. Maybe they’re financially secure but you’re not sure how to access their will or power of attorney. Perhaps you’re worried they’ve been the victim of a scam. Maybe you’re trying to figure out how to take over your parents’ finances altogether. Whatever it is, know what you want to discuss and ask them directly. If you show your love and concern, but are also straightforward about your goals, your parents are more likely to open up.4 “It's important to impart a clear message that you have your parents' best interests in mind,” according to the Financial Industry Professionals Association’s guide to discussing money with parents.
Consider going pro
Do you know it’s time to take over your elderly parents’ finances, but aren’t sure where to start? Maybe you’d rather avoid these discussions altogether. Or perhaps you’re concerned about the way they’ve invested their nest egg or managed their mortgage, but don’t have the expertise to fix it. It might be worth bringing in a professional.4
This can obviously get tricky, since your parents may not want an outsider involved in their finances. It may help to find professionals that deal specifically with clients in retirement, or someone who your parents already know, like a friend who is a financial professional.
Talking about money with aging parents is never easy. But if you can find the right time and the right tone, talking to your parents about their money could go a long way toward securing their financial future, so your family can focus on enjoying your time together.