Talking about finances with your parents can be awkward. Aging, health, and money can be thorny topics when handled individually, but are even more difficult when combined. And chances are it’s as uncomfortable for them as it is for you.

Less than one-third of families have had satisfactory conversations around aging and end-of-life planning, and more than two-thirds of those conversations don’t happen until there’s a critical emergency or health crisis.1 

No matter how open your relationship, this can be a tough conversation. Yet, it’s essential to have the conversation sooner rather than later to protect your parents’ well-being, to support their retirement plans, and to know how you can best help them manage their finances. Here are some tips on how to start the conversation and some key issues to cover.
 

Timing and wording should be carefully chosen

Acknowledge that the conversation could bring up sensitive issues and that your parents may be protective of their privacy or find it difficult to talk about money with their kids. It may be helpful to frame the conversation by discussing a friend and their parents’ finances. You could also introduce the topic by bringing up decisions that you’ve made around your own financial future.

Be considerate of timing and avoid busy holidays, which may already be stressful. The conversation may come as a surprise to your parents, so be patient and give them the time that they need; yet be firm about obtaining information. Remind them that you’re having this discussion because you care, and it’ll help when it matters most.

If you have siblings or other family members that are directly involved in your parents’ finances, appoint the family member that has the most open relationship with them. Realize that going in as a group may feel aggressive and could make your parents defensive.
 

Remind your parents that you want to understand their wishes for their future

Get an understanding of what their goals are for retirement and what their financial future will look like. Discuss their plans for income sources such as annuities and find out what their intentions are for health care. Nearly 70 percent of seniors will require some type of long-term care service as they grow older so it is important to discuss early and understand who will provide the care and how it will be paid for.2
 

Get the full picture of your parents’ finances

Be clear about where all money is kept, how much is there, and who has access to it. List all account numbers and contact information. Also list deeds, co-op agreements, car insurance records, and any other assets in one place. It may be helpful to review your parents’ tax returns to look for any additional income sources.
 

Avoid safety deposit boxes

It can be common practice to keep papers and valuables in a bank safety deposit box, but this can be a big mistake. Apart from losing the key, you may not be able to obtain information from the bank unless you can present power of attorney documentation or a death certificate. These documents can be time-consuming and difficult to obtain after the original safety deposit box owner passes away or becomes incapable of handling their own financial affairs.
 

Get clear on wills, power of attorney, and health care proxies

All adults, especially those with dependents, should have a will. If you’ll need to access your parents’ assets while they’re still alive, you’ll need authorization. Someone should be legally designated as having “durable power of attorney” in order to make key decisions regarding your parents’ finances. Make sure this person can be trusted to act in your parents’ best interest and that other siblings in the family are aware of the arrangement. If you have power of attorney, keep records and document all transactions.

Your parents also need to elect a “health care proxy.” This simply means they’re choosing someone to make health care decisions if they’re no longer capable. It’s important to decide who should have power of attorney and be the health care proxy when a person is able-minded as it can get complicated if they’re not.
 

Reach out to experts for legal and financial advice

Get the advice of a lawyer specialized in elder law and estate matters within your state and speak with a qualified financial professional. Knowledgeable advice can be critical in assessing issues, making vital decisions, heading off potential conflicts, and putting paperwork in order. If you have power of attorney over your parents’ money, you have fiduciary responsibility. That means you’re legally obligated to put the financial interests of your parents first.  

It’s easy to procrastinate on uncomfortable conversations but talking with your parents now will address important issues head on and will help you tackle potential problems before they arise. When everything’s in place, you can feel confident that you addressed the important issues in time to support your parents’ well-being.

Disclaimer

1

Home Instead Senior Care, US Research Report, 2014

2

Administration on Aging, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2019

Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees do not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. Consult your tax, legal, or accounting professional regarding your individual situation.

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