Navigating a conversation about your aging parents’ finances can be hard. In fact, according to recent survey, 73% of Americans haven’t spoken to their parents about money in-depth, and 17% of respondents said they were afraid to bring up the topic.
Although the thought of asking your elderly parents about their future financial security can feel uncomfortable, you will inevitably need to know these details. For example, this is especially true if they need to go into eldercare later on or if you’re tasked with managing their estate after they die.
If you want to get the conversation started, here are a few ways to get it going in a productive and encouraging direction.
- Schedule time
If you want your parents’ undivided attention during “the talk” it is probably not a great idea to pull them aside at a family reunion, or during a mentally or physically involved activity. Instead, choose a time and place where everyone can feel present in the conversation.
For example, you might try inviting them over to your home for dinner. If you live far from your parents, you can schedule a call with them in advance, so you don’t accidentally catch them while they’re grocery shopping.
Planning this time can help you feel confident you and your parents can feel heard and supported.
- Decide how you’ll break the ice
Finding an easy segue into the topic of their finances might take some finessing, depending on how open your parents are about money. A few ways to bring up the topic include:
- Using a current event. For example, if Social Security funding or tax laws have changed recently, you can use current events as an “in”.
- Ask for advice. You can say that you are unsure of how much to save for your own retirement or want to learn more about how to set up a will. With this context, your parents may open up about the steps they took and giving you more insight into where they stand financially.
- Mention a friend’s experience. Share a friend’s story about the challenges they faced when something happened to their parents. This approach can give your parents context about why the conversation is important to you.
Whichever approach you use to start the conversation, don’t get stuck on the opening setup. Keep the end goal in mind by bringing the conversation back to your parents and their financial health.
- Focus on outcomes, not money
When partnering with your parents about their future, it’s not just about the money, hard numbers, and paperwork. Ultimately, you want to be aligned with what their ideal outcome is.
This includes what they envision their retirement to look like — will they downgrade their home? Do they want to be able to travel? Similarly, when they’re unable to care for themselves, do they expect you to be their caretaker, hire a service or move into a senior community?
Frame the conversation in a way that makes it clear that you’re not looking to parent them about their financial future; instead, you want to be a partner.
- Start slow
Don’t expect your parents to cough up every bank account, investment, documented wills, and other details in a single sitting. Starting the conversation —period — is a way to keep it going so that everyone is comfortable when these topics will inevitably come up over time.
If you even walk away learning that they do have a will in place or don’t plan on moving into your home in their later years, that’s good to know. As the first talk with your aging parents about money, plan on asking a couple of broad, open-ended questions to help guide the conversation instead of demanding all granular details.
- Help them with small financial tasks
Although much of the conversation may be about plans for the future, that doesn’t mean that you can’t help money management easier for your parents today. Take this opportunity to show your parents financial tools and resources for smaller money tasks. You can help them set up automatic payments for their bills, for instance, or help them set up automatic fraud alerts.
Talking to your elderly parents about their finances doesn’t have to feel awkward. By thoughtfully approaching the conversation, you can reassure them that you want to be as supportive and respectful of their wishes throughout their golden years.