Nobody wants to talk to their aging parents about money. It ranks right up there with “the talk” they gave you when you were a child. It’s especially difficult when you’re not sure your parents are financially prepared for the future. As uncomfortable as it is, that discussion is critical. Avoiding it is not okay. You love your parents, and you want them to be able to retire with dignity. You want them to live out their dream retirement. And if you don’t ask, you may find yourself cleaning up your parents’ finances after they are gone. I know it’s tough, but you must have that conversation. Here’s how…
Request a meeting
Don’t dive into your money conversation unexpectedly. Make a request, set up an appointment. That’s our first piece of advice around any difficult conversation. Don’t just spring it on them. Talk about your intentions in a way that won’t put your parents on the defensive.
Don’t start with: “Hey, do you have life insurance?” That type of question might prompt your parent to think: “You’re hoping I’ll die so you can get some money”. People fill in the gaps. They make up a story, when really that might not be the intention at all.
Try this instead: “We want to get clear on what your wishes are in terms of your estate. We want to make sure that we all understand what is important to you and what we can do to support you”. Include your siblings in the conversation, to make sure everyone hears the same message.
Ask the right questions
The focus should be on gathering information, not giving advice. Instead of telling your parents what they “should” be doing, try framing statements with “I.” For example: “One of the things I’d like to know about …” or “I’m concerned about …” Follow those introductory phrases with questions like:
- What are your plans for retirement? Are you confident you are on the right path?
- What are your planned sources of retirement income?
- Do you have any sources of debt? If so, what are they?
- What type of insurance coverage do you have?
- If you were unable to live in your current location, where would you want to go?
- Have you considered if you could maintain a household alone if necessary?
- Are you now working with an investment planning professional?
The above list is by no means comprehensive. There’s a lot you can and should ask. Below we’d like to focus on 3 areas that should form the foundation of the conversation.
Do you have a Will?
To help get the money talk flowing, start by asking if they have a Will and whether it’s up to date. We find that conversation easily leads into finances. Older generations don’t like to talk about finances, it’s very personal. Reviewing their Will or getting them to create one will outline your parent’s assets and their financial wishes. It forces them to define their intentions in exact terms, clearly defining what provision they’ve made and how their assets should be allocated.
Throw a rock out the window and you’ll likely hit someone who thinks it’s too late for them to start saving for retirement or paying off debt. That’s very dangerous thinking because it ensures they will stay broke, fulfilling the self-proclaimed prophecy. If your parents’ financial situation has beaten them down, let’s get them to start beating back.
Focus on good news instead of bad. If you are concerned about your parents’ current financial state, a way to broach the subject is to talk about how much better things are for you (and your family) since you started getting out of debt and making a budget—after you’ve done so, of course. Maybe it’s your financial security level, your sense of freedom, your reduced stress and so on. That would probably be well received by your parents; after all, who wouldn’t want to hear that their son or daughter is doing well?
At the same time, when parents hear good financial news, their ears perk up. If they want to change the way they handle money to achieve similar results, it becomes their choice, not “taking the kid’s advice.” It may take some time but keep at it. Remember it’s their money, not yours
Guidance not Judgement
It can be tempting to jump all over a bad financial decision — or one that seems bad — that your parents are making. Many people must deal with such a situation, and it’s worth remembering that you can’t control how your parents spend their money. If they want to blow their retirement savings on lavish vacations or helping other family members to their own detriment, it ultimately is their decision to do so.
Of course, this gets a lot more complicated if you’re the one who might end up financially supporting your parents as they get older. But for the most part, you can’t and shouldn’t be trying to control your parents’ financial decisions. The one caveat to this is if they’re getting duped by an elderly financial scam, or if they’ve reached a point in their lives where it’s very difficult for them to make financial decisions on their own.
Seek Professional Advice
Having a conversation with your parents about retirement planning is important, but they might also benefit from seeking the advice of a financial professional who can help them make the most of their money. If they do decide to consult with a professional, consider going with them to continue the open dialogue about their finances. Then, in the future, if you need to step in to help your parents, you’ll be aware of their financial situation.
You may end up showing them how to access their accounts online, how to use a chip card or what their fraud protection options are. If they’re working, you may have to show them how to maximise their retirement options and help with estate planning.
No matter where the conversation goes, the first step is sitting down and having it. Once you’ve had the conversation, you can rest easy knowing that the people who spent a lifetime taking care of you are going to approach the future with peace of mind and a solid foundation of financial security.