Tips for talking with your parents about money

March 14, 2019 by Maggie Bonecutter

My mother is a 77-year-old dynamo and has neither the time nor the fancy to talk with me about her finances, thank you very much. But, she’s 77. And tomorrow is not guaranteed. It’s time.

If you’re also in that weird place of starting to parent your parent – part of which is helping ensure their financial health as cognitive and physical limitations take hold – take heart. There are ways to engage your parents about their money without them feeling like they’re leaving earth tomorrow or that you’re trying to take their last penny.

Pace yourself – and your parents

You might have a thousand questions about their finances and related issues, but don’t unload them all at once. Expect to host several conversations and keep the themes defined and brief. For example, in one sitting you might ask about their accounts and where they keep the paperwork. In another, you can ask their thoughts about a nursing home or skilled care and sources of funding for them. Funeral planning could be another topic. Keeping these conversations short and sweet can hopefully keep them pleasant and painless, as well.

Choose the right time and conditions to broach the subject

Asking your mom if she has a will — right when she pulls the giblets from the raw Thanksgiving turkey with her bare hands — might not be your smoothest move. Keep this acronym in mind when determining the best time to talk about sensitive issues with your parents (or with anyone, for that matter): H.A.L.T. Make sure the other party isn’t Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.

Some tips to keep in mind when approaching your parents:

  • find a quiet time,
  • have one family representative bring up the topic so it doesn’t seem that the whole family is ganging up on them and
  • position the approach as an offer to help, not an offer to control.

Acknowledge that emotions might run high and check yourself first

Our parents have been our lifelong mentors, leaders and teachers, and it’s hard to accept a role reversal. They might feel sad or angry that they’re losing control. And you might feel frustrated that they aren’t as quick and savvy as they once were. Know this: It’s absolutely OK to have all of those feelings.

While we can’t control the inevitability of aging, we can take inventory of our emotions and put them in perspective before talking to parents about their finances. Acknowledge your feelings, try to predict emotional flare-ups that might occur from all parties and practice your calm reactions. As my 16-year-old says, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.” Doing this can help diffuse emotional escalations that might – or might not, you never know – happen during the actual chat.

Is talking about these topics with your parents fun? Goodness, no. Is it essential? Heavens, yes. Taking the first step now to ensure everyone is on the same page about your parents’ finances will help you avoid hasty and potentially expensive decisions later on.


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