Talking to Your Aging Parents About Money

This summer, I became an official member of the sandwich generation. After my dad’s cancer diagnosis in August, I began caring for my aging parents while raising my two boys.

In August, I took over management of my parent’s finances, and I did so without any pushback from them.

Why was the transition so easy? Because my parents and I openly talk about retirement options, health insurance, savings goals, college tuition, and lots of other money matters.

As a result, my parents quickly handed over the reins to their finances.

I wish every family could transition money matters as painlessly as my parents did. Unfortunately, it’s not always so easy. Money is still an unspoken topic, but it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Ask Your Parents for Financial Advice

It feels awkward to talk about money if you’ve never talked about it before. If you’ve never spoken about money, don’t jump in by asking, “How much life insurance do you have, and where is your will?”

Instead, ask your parents for advice on a small financial topic.

You could start by saying, “Mom and dad, I want to start a savings account for my kids. Do you have any suggestions, or do you think $10 a week is a good start?”

If this feels awkward, choose a broader topic before diving into financial matters. Ask your parents questions like you are interviewing them, and pick a topic that won’t feel like you are invading their privacy.

For instance, you could say, “Tell me about your first house. Where was it, and why did you choose to buy it?” 

As your parents share the details, ask, “What year did you buy it? Do you remember how much interest rates were back then or how much it cost?”

As you can see, you can start with a non-financial topic before diving into the monetary details.

After your parents talk, tell them you want to save for a downpayment on a new house. Then ask follow-up questions, like “How did you save for your downpayment? Do you remember how long it took you?”

Ask these questions even if you don’t need your parent’s advice on them. The goal is to find a topic to discuss that can open the floodgates to further discussions.

Make money a normal part of the conversation, and let it feel like a casual topic. 

When done right, it’s doesn’t feel any different than talking about your favorite sports team or the weather.

Talking to Your Parents About Money

When most of us think about money, we think about specific facts and figures, but those numbers are a small piece of the overall financial picture. 

We can normalize money conversations without talking about how much we earn or spend each month. Your parents don’t need to divulge their credit card debt or the amount of their bi-weekly paycheck.

Instead, we can open the door to broader financial discussions. We can discuss budgets, saving for children, and paying off debt.

We can talk about how much money we need to save for a down payment or how to cut expenses to pay for a family vacation.

Talk To Your Parents Before They Need Your Help

The more you discuss money before a family crisis occurs, the better off you’ll be when it does.

The key is to talk to your parents about money before they need your help. 

Don’t wait until your parents face a terminal illness or lose their memory if you can help it.

Remember, you don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty details of your parents’ finances the first day you sit down to talk about them.

Talk in generalities at first and then dig into deeper discussions later.

Talking About Wills With Your Parents

For many people, the only thing worse than talking about money is talking about death.

If your parents aren’t in crisis mode, talk to them about your estate plans.

Say things like, “I need to update our will. I realized we hadn’t updated it since our youngest was born. Who did you use to create yours?”

If you don’t feel comfortable starting the conversation that way, tell them about a friend whose parent’s died without a will. Then ask if they have one.

You can do the same for other end-of-life documents.

Talking to Your Aging Parents About Money Before It’s Too Late

Hopefully, you read this post before your parents face a crisis. But if the need for end-of-life documents feels urgent, you’ll need to take a straightforward approach.

Tell your parents you’d like to speak to them and explain that you have something difficult to discuss. Let them know that your conversation might feel uncomfortable or sad. 

Express your concern for their wellbeing and let them know that you are there to help.

Begin from a place of empathy and sympathy. Put yourself in your parents’ shoes before you start.

Create an agenda for your meeting, even if it’s only in your mind. You’ll want to talk about passwords, accounts, documentation, wills, power of attorney (POA), advanced health directives, insurance policies, and trusts.

Pay attention to your parents’ body language. If they seem defensive or grow quiet, take your time and try not to push too hard. Be aware of their emotions and read their non-verbal cues.

While you may have many tasks you wish to accomplish, focus on listening carefully. Don’t rush the conversation or try to check off all the boxes on your to-do list the first time you talk.

Your anxieties and fears may build while talking to your parents, so find the space and time to reset. Take a deep breath and pause when you feel the need.

Estate Planning Documentation

I’ll detail the estate planning documents you’ll need your parents to gather in my next post. It’s a long list I’ve been working on since August.

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