How to Talk With Parents About Their Finances

If your parents managed the family finances while you were growing up, it can be horribly difficult to ask how they’re doing with money in their later years. You may worry that they’ll think you want to make sure of your inheritance, restrict their freedom to spend, or even take over their money so you can ease them into a nursing home.

In reality, your parents may be less anxious about having this conversation than you are. A national finance survey last year found that the majority of parents thought at least one of their children would help them manage their retirement finances and investments. A similar percentage expected the kids to lend a hand on household expenses, budgeting, and bills. That would come as a surprise to many adult children—44% didn’t know their parents wanted help with household budgets, and 36% were unaware that they were expected to handle investments.*

So if your parents haven’t already suggested a money talk, don’t be shy about proposing it yourself. Chances are, they’ll feel relieved.

The best time to have this conversation is before it’s necessary. You might use the occasion of a family reunion, when you, your siblings, and your parents are all together. Or if everybody can’t join in, those who live closest can take the lead and report to the other siblings. Choose a time when no one is stressed, and a location that’s private and comfortable. Your end of the conversation might go something like this:

“Mom, Dad, do you mind if we ask you some questions for our own peace of mind? Please don’t get offended, but we want to know if you have any concerns about money. Is everything okay right now?”

Then ask, “Have you made any plans for what to do if things get difficult for you?” If the answer is “No,” you might say, “If we start to see things becoming more difficult, what would you like us to do? Obviously we’d discuss things with you, but is there someone you would want to be helping you?” (For example, a well-organized child who lives nearby or a trusted financial advisor.)

*Kerri Anne Renzulli, “Here’s What Your Aging Parents Say They Want You to Do for Them,” Money, 6/28/16 (http://time.com/money/4373207/family-finance-adult-children-aging-parents/

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