Adult children find it difficult to have the ‘money talk’ with aging parents because they feel it is not their place. However, it is extremely important to have this conversation in order to protect family assets, eliminate unnecessary administrative difficulties and minimize potential disputes with family members before it is too late.
In our experience, people often wait too long or avoid having the talk altogether. While dealing with emotional turmoil, children must simultaneously handle the adversities associated with administering affairs, executing documents, and following procedures associated with the death or disability of parents. It is a very difficult situation if you are not properly prepared.
If you are an executor or trustee for your parents affairs when they can no longer handle them, it is critical for you to have a good understanding of their overall financial picture. This can be a difficult and emotional conversation, but it is possible to approach this subject in a delicate and loving manner. Here are a few tips to help make this conversation a little easier:
- Ask your parents to schedule a time to have this talk. We suggest saying something like, “I just met with our financial advisor and they brought up a few questions about our estate that made me wonder if you may also have some of these same issues. I would appreciate your insight and I want to see if you may need any help. Can we sit down together and talk about this one evening after dinner?”
- Reduce distractions during the meeting, such as children, pets or friends. These distractions will only make it more difficult to have this conversation and to stay on track. Keep the environment as quiet and peaceful as possible so you can easily get through the “to-do” list.
- Monitor you parents’ mood during the meeting. If they start to get tired or frustrated, stop and schedule another meeting. This process may take several meetings and it is important not to rush.
- Emphasize the link between their financial decisions and your own planning. For example, it is important to know if they wish to leave monetary gifts to grandchildren for their education or leave a vacation home to you and your siblings. Explain to your parents that, by sharing information, this will enable you to make decisions that will honor their intentions and preserve family assets.
- Come prepared! You should have a list of questions to ask your parents prior to the meeting. Parents may try to sway the conversation in a different direction if it starts to feel uncomfortable. If this happens, take note of these sensitive topics and move on to the next item on the list. You can always come back to these items at a later time. Here is a list of information you should be gathering from them:
- Personal information (SSNs, birthdates, etc.)
- Important contacts (financial advisors, accountants, etc.)
- Any insurance information
- Private security and access information (important passwords, safety deposit box information, etc.)
- Financial information (banks accounts, investments, retirement accounts, debt, etc.)
- Estate planning documents (Wills, Trusts, Advanced Medical Directives and Powers of Attorney)
- Letters of instruction for personal property
- Real estate information
- Business information
- Medical history
- Funeral arrangements
- Pet information
Cassaday & Company, Inc.’s What My Family Should Know document is an excellent way to get this data in a central location. Helping your parents fill this out is also a great way to memorialize all of the processes, people, and protocols that will make this difficult time easier and assure that your parents’ wishes are carried out. Once this document is filled out it can be password protected and stored in a secure online “vault” for safe storage until it is needed.
Review this information every year. Make any necessary changes and confirm that important information is still kept in the same place.
Always remember to be sensitive to your parents’ concerns about maintaining their independence as they age. They may worry you want to take control. Assure them that you are asking to help honor their wishes and keep them informed, safe and secure. It is important to ask them whom they would trust to make financial and personal decisions if they were no longer able to make these decisions on their own. Consider offering to bring a financial advisor into the conversation to help facilitate the discussion and ensure that everything that needs to be covered is addressed. ■
By Sarah Mouser, Director of Financial Planning, CFP®, CES®