Talking to your parents about their finances can be a difficult moment in an adult child’s life. What should be a straightforward and practical discussion about numbers is often clouded with emotions and memories. It’s essential to have these discussions before a tragic event occurs; however, broaching the subject can be tricky. In this week’s episode of rich & REGULAR, we broach that difficult topic.
There’s no one right way to do it, but below are a few tips to help make the conversation easier for everyone- you included.
Feel your emotions.
Depending on your parent’s financial situation and the level of assistance they need, you may be in for some very emotional conversations. It’s crucial to take a little time to center yourself around the subject before you start a discussion with your parents. Having this space will help you be a neutral ally rather than an authority figure that your parents rebel against or resent. Writing a letter that you never send; giving yourself space to feel whatever emotions are coming up; and talking with your siblings or partner to make sure you’re on the same page can help you come into these conversations with a level head.
Talk to a safe third party.
According to caregiveraction.org, 65 million people in the U.S. “provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member.” This situation can be incredibly draining, and having a therapist or other support group can help you process your feelings about the situation. Many of us have complicated feelings about our parents, and it’s vital to separate (as much as possible) your past feelings from your current role as financial caretaker. Making sure you have your support in place will make staying neutral easier when emotionally loaded topics arise.
This is a marathon.
Remember that this isn’t a one-and-done conversation. You and your parents will have many details to work out, and it will be a long process. You will not wrap everything up in an afternoon, and finishing one task will likely add five more to your to-do list. Be mentally prepared for this to be a marathon, not a sprint, so you can conserve your energy.
Start a Discussion With Your Parent(s)
Schedule small conversations.
Many adult children don’t have conversations about their parents’ financial situations because they don’t think it’s any of their business. Likewise, many elderly parents don’t want to discuss their finances because it feels like they’re giving up control of their lives.
Cameron Huddleston, author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations With Your Parents About Their Finances, offers conversation starters and advice about what to do if your parents are reluctant to talk about their finances.
Assist with Medicare and Social Security applications.
If your parent hasn’t applied for Medicare or Social Security yet, assisting them with the application process and helping them understand their options can be a great way to start a deeper conversation around finances. Visit the Social Security or Medicare websites to help you and your parents find information about when and how to apply, and use that to start a deeper conversation about their wishes and current situation.
Other Financial Documents
At the same time that you’re helping them apply for benefits, you can also make sure that your parent’s estate-planning documents are in place. If they don’t have estate-planning documents yet, do some research about the legal requirements in your state. Working with a lawyer can often save many headaches, but several states allow people to create documents and have them notarized or witnessed. Find out what your state requires and help your parents set up their estates accordingly. Remember that having power of attorney for someone is a big deal, so make sure you and your siblings understand the implications and responsibilities of that role.
Practice compassion and empathy.
Dealing with retirement practicality can be a stressful, scary time for your parents, especially if their finances don’t allow them much room for traditional retirement. You may feel as though you just acquired another angry teenager, but remember that your parent is an adult, and you are in this together. Your parents may be grieving the loss of a retirement dream, feeling bitter about their situation, or scared of the future. It is not your job to manage their emotions, but if they’re feeling down or angry, you can be a great support to them by being a neutral party who responds with compassion and empathy.
It’s difficult to help a parent with their money. It is a long, drawn-out process that is emotionally fraught for both you and them, but with some forethought and research, you can make the process easier for everyone.