How to Talk to Your Parents About Their Finances


February 18, 2022

How to Talk to Your Parents About Their Finances

February 18, 2022

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Money can be a taboo topic in some families, especially when it comes to talking to your parents about their finances. But understanding your parents’ financial situation, including long-term care, estate planning, and retirement prep, is important as they age. You want your parents to be able to live their dream retirement comfortably and have access to the care they need—all without taking a great toll on you as a potential caregiver and financial supporter. Additionally, discussions around these topics can make you aware and help you prepare to step in to prevent or stop financial abuse, scams, and fraud and ensure your parents’ wishes are carried out.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on financial and legacy planning conversations for Americans. In a study by Edward Jones in partnership with Age Wave and Harris Poll, 33% of American adults reported that the pandemic prompted familial conversations about end-of-life plans and preferences, and 18% had their first-ever discussions about topics like finances and health and estate plans. Sixty percent reported that the top three barriers to these important discussions are “avoiding family conflicts (22%), attempting to avoid burdening family members with their finances (20%), and being too uncomfortable to discuss these topics (18%).”

The study also uncovered some fears children (potential caregivers/supporters) have regarding their parents’ finances. Fifty-three million U.S. adults wish their parents and in-laws managed their money better. More than half of millennials, the next generation in line to become caregivers as their parents are beginning to age and enter retirement, are worried “that their parents or in-laws will become financially dependent on them one day, underscoring the need for transparent dialogue.”

Your family dynamics will play a critical role in this discussion’s effectiveness. Having a plan for broaching this conversation can help alleviate many of the concerns discussed above.

Here are some tips for how to talk to your parents about their finances:

Determine when to start the discussion

According to Nasdaq.com, “The more remote or theoretical the topic, the easier it can be to discuss.” Meaning, start the conversation early and talk about it often. It’s crucial to pick the right time and involve the right people. For example, initiating the conversation around the holidays when there are likely extended family members and possibly alcohol involved could be a recipe for disaster. If you think your parents will appreciate this, you could set the stage for the conversation before you plan on having it. For example, you could tell them you’d like to have the discussion after the holidays on a certain date when the immediate family is all together.

Be prepared for several conversations, as it might take time for your parents to feel comfortable opening up. Don’t push too hard; if your parents aren’t ready to have the conversation, continuing to question them will likely backfire on you—and potentially impact your ability to broach the conversation again in the future.

Check your attitude

Approach this topic delicately with your parents, taking care not to come across as condescending, disrespectful, or authoritative. They are still your parents, so demonstrating a level of respect and care is very important to this discussion’s openness and success. You don’t want to appear to be asking with selfish motivations or prescribing or dictating what your parents “should do.” You need to be calm, respectful, and composed, even if the conversation gets heated or your parents negatively react to your questions.

Know how you’re going to start the conversation

You could take an indirect approach—this could be mentioning an article or book you read related to the topic or asking your parents for advice about a financial issue you’re having, then turning the conversation to their approach to handling their finances. Look for opportunities to naturally keep the conversation going. If your parents give you an opening to ask questions or turn the conversation to them, do it! You could pose “what if” scenarios as a way to make them more comfortable talking about morbid or upsetting situations with hypotheticals.

You could also approach the conversation directly. Tell your parents you’d like to talk about their financial and estate planning to be prepared in case of emergency and ensure their wishes are carried out.

You know your parents, so use your best judgment and take the approach you think they’ll respond best to. Be flexible and ready to pivot to another tactic—or abandon ship completely and bring it up another time—if needed.

Don’t make it all about money

This could backfire quickly if your parents feel this discussion is motivated by self-serving intentions. Start with more broad, big picture questions. Ask what their dreams are for their retirement. What do they want to do? How will they spend their time? Where do they want to live? Then, you can transition to asking how they’ll achieve those goals. If they say they’d really like to do something but don’t think it will be possible, this could be a clue that they don’t feel as financially prepared.

Ask questions and acknowledge their feelings

Talking about your finances, health, and death can be scary, embarrassing, or upsetting. You need to gauge your parents’ reactions and emotions as best as possible and adjust your approach. If you’re coming from a place of care and love, asking supportive questions and acknowledging their feelings can go a long way to opening and keeping the lines of communication open—and the conversation going.

Take notes

Remember, the whole point of these conversations is preparation. The last thing you want to happen is that you get your parents to open up and talk, then forget what they told you because you didn’t write it down. Gather as much information as possible, again, taking care not to push too hard. Break these down into several conversations, perhaps each with a specific topic to discuss. If your parents have a specific place for important documents, account information, passwords, etc., take note of how to access it.

Offer to help

Gauge what they need help with and the severity and offer to help if you think it will be well-received. If they’re having trouble managing their bills, help them organize their accounts and offer to set up auto-pay. If they don’t have advanced directives, offer to help them create their estate planning documents or find them a reputable estate planning attorney to work with.

Important questions to ask your parents about their finances and medical care as they age:

  • What are your medical wishes should you be incapacitated/unable to make decisions for yourself?
  • Who will make medical decisions for you? Do you have a power of attorney and advance directives?
  • Do you have a financial plan for your retirement?
  • Do you have life insurance? Do you have long-term care insurance?
  • Do you have a list of all your important accounts and policies, including usernames and passwords? Where is this—and all your important documents—kept?
  • Do you have estate planning documents, like a will or trust? Where is this kept

If your parents are reluctant or flat-out refuse to have these important discussions with you, no matter how many times you try, it may be time to find a third party to help. You could solicit a financial professional, estate planning attorney, or even encourage them to speak with a clergy member or their doctor about health care/advance directive planning and advice. A trusted friend or close family member may be able to get them to open up as well. There’s likely someone in their lives who can move the needle.

Don’t get discouraged if you cannot get your parents to open up initially. Be patient—it will likely take time and different approaches. Keep your goals of preparation and support in mind. Eventually, your parents might see how important this conversation is and will be willing to open up.

Talking to your parents about their finances and medical care is a role reversal, so go into it with love, care, and honesty. Your only goals should be to support your parents and ensure their best interests are accounted for.

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References

Edward Jones. (Fall 2021). The Four Pillars of the New Retirement: Tracking Update with a Spotlight on Family. https://www.edwardjones.com/sites/default/files/acquiadam/2021-11/Edward-Jones-4-Pillars-fall-2021-report.pdf

Huddleston, Cameron. (May 21, 2021). 10 Ways to Talk to Your Aging Parents About Their Finances. Kiplinger. https://www.kiplinger.com/slideshow/retirement/t013-s001-talk-to-your-aging-parents-about-their-finances/index.html

Huddleston, Cameron. (n.d.). A Checklist for Talking to Your Parents About Their Finances. Carefull. https://www.getcarefull.com/articles/a-checklist-for-talking-to-parents-about-their-finances

Weston, Liz. (November 18, 2021). How to Talk Money With Your Parents This Weekend. Nasdaq. https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/how-to-talk-money-with-your-parents-this-holiday