One of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, time for an adult child is that moment when we realize that our parents are no longer the strong and invincible people they have been throughout our lives. They took care of us for many years but now the sad fact is that it’s our turn – we need to think about taking care of them and their finances. And part of this process is talking with them about subjects that can be very difficult. And among the most difficult are conversations about money in the form of estate planning, insurance, long-term health care and all of those other sticky subjects that no one really wants to discuss.
Money plays a pretty big part
It may feel awkward to talk about it but money plays a very big role in making end-of-life decisions. If you don’t find time to sit down with your parents to talk and make proactive decisions, it can set up the entire family for even more awkwardness and a big helping of hard feelings later on. However, there is good news and that is the conversation doesn’t have to be ugly and awkward. If you approach the money topic with understanding, love and preparedness it can turn what could’ve been an uncomfortable conversation into something productive and valuable. Here are eight tips that can help you have the money conversation with your aging parents and without causing hard feelings.
Start by following that old Boy Scout dictum to Be Prepared. Realize that this will be an emotional conversation because it will force your parents to come face to face with their own mortality. It’s important to approach the conversation with an attitude of patience and kindness. Make sure you keep your mind open. Never forget that your parents are who raised you and they’re adults, too, even if their mental or physical capacity has lessened with age.
If you approach the situation respectfully and in an understanding manner they will respond better. If you have siblings, it’s important to make sure that you’re all on the same page before you talk with your parents. Let your parents know that you have some concerns about their finances going forward as well as your own. You might tell them that you’re trying to plan your future and that because of this their finances have been weighing heavily on your mind. You could tell them that you’d really like to sit down with them and have a discussion about their wishes and their finances.
If they refuse
Don’t get impatient or angry if they refuse to talk with you about their finances. Many older people are actually fearful of their finances going forward. They might also be feeling guilty or embarrassed if they have not done a good job of planning for their future.
Your parents may also be worried about you and your siblings and how they can keep things fair. Or they might be concerned that you’re trying to leave out your siblings. Be sure to assure them that this is definitely not the case.
You can be firm
It’s okay to be a bit firm. Let your parents know that their financial future is weighing heavily on you. If you must, promise this will be a one-time conversation and you won’t need to talk with them about it again. You might also give them some advance notice so that they can be prepared for the conversation.
You’ll have to decide whether to have the conversation alone or with your spouse. Your parents could have different feelings about your husband or wife and might feel more comfortable discussing things with you and your siblings without spouses. If this is the case, be sure to respect their wishes because the key here is to make the conversation as comfortable for them as possible.
Give them time
Don’t try to have the conversation immediately. Ask your parents if you can schedule some time to sit down and talk with them about their finances. It’s not fair to sort of spring such a complicated topic on them out of the clear blue sky. Give them time to mull things over, gather any documents they would like to share with you and to think about their responses.
Don’t schedule the conversation around any holiday as these times can be busy and distracting. These can also be tough times for a parent that has a grave health or financial problem. Rather than trying to have the conversation around a holiday, focus instead on the joy and happiness of the season. Then have the conversation sometime when things are less hectic, complicated and emotional.
You could make things simpler for yourself by having a checklist with points of discussion and accounts so you can be certain that you remember everything you want to discuss with your parents. If emotions get high, it’s easy to forget something that you really want to discuss. If possible, alert your parents and your siblings that you’ve prepared ahead of time a list of accounts that you’d like to share with them. Don’t make the mistake of concentrating on numbers. The important thing is to get a general understanding of where their accounts are held and what it is you will need to know if they became unable to access their information. Some of the things that should be on this list would include information about their savings and checking accounts, their insurance policies, their mortgage holder and status (if appropriate), their debts, and other assets and liabilities. You will need to know about their wills and who is the executor. And you should ask where they keep their important documents such as titles and certificates.
Discuss their end-of-life wishes
The sad fact is that not everyone feels okay about filling out a living will and care plan. You need to be gentle when you bring this up with your parents and have them share their preferences with you. Explain to them that as their next of kin you will be in charge of making difficult choices in terms of their care and that you will respect their wishes. Spoiler alert – this can be a very difficult conversation if you don’t agree with your parents’ choices. In fact, if you feel strongly that you can’t carry through with their wishes you’ll need to encourage them to appoint some objective party in their living will. This will relieve you of the pressure and ensure that their wishes are carried out.
If you or your parent has never filed out a living will here’s a video that will teach you what you need to know.
If a parent can no longer live independently
What is your surviving parent’s expectations if he or she can no longer live independently? Would they prefer to move into your guest room, into a retirement community or would they wish to have in-home care? When discussing their plans and preferences try to find compromises. For example, you could ask when they would like you to or when they expect you to intervene. Make sure they understand that you really want to follow their wishes. Approach everything with care and concern.
You may not get all the answers
Keep in mind that this will be one of the most emotionally difficult conversations you will ever face. Your goal should be to have things go as smoothly as possible and for you to get all the information you would need in case of an emergency. If it turns out that they’re unwilling to answer certain questions, just accept this. Nagging or pleading with them to get answers to questions they don’t want to answer isn’t likely to produce a positive conversation.
If you approach things with kindness, love and understanding you should be able to have a hard but productive conversation that will get you the answers you’ll need when the time comes.