Featured in the Knoxville News Sentinel: July 17, 2018
Do you need to have “The Talk” in your family?
No, not the birds-and-the-bees talk, I’m referring to the talk with an aging parent about their finances.
According to one survey, 54 percent of baby boomer respondents said they would rather talk to their children about sex than talk to their aging parents about money. However, at some point, our aging family members need assistance.
Seventy-five percent of seniors will need some type of long-term care as they age. It is not uncommon to experience cognitive and/or physical decline – such as loss of hearing, vision, memory, muscle strength, bone density, or balance.
As seniors, we are at higher risk of stroke, heart disease, dementia, or breaking a bone in a fall. Unfortunately, most long-term care decisions are made during a medical crisis when stress levels and emotions are running high.
The cost of ‘money silence’
The cost of money silence is high. Family members pay, on average, $10,000 per year toward an aging parent’s care.
Here are some tips for talking to an aging parent about their finances:
- Process your own feelings. Talking to a parent about their estate plans, financial situation, or housing wishes is an emotional business. You may be frustrated, angry, sad, or scared. Those feelings are normal, but identifying them may help you remain calm and focused as you talk to a parent.
- Talk with other family members. Have transparency among siblings and relatives. Determine how decisions will be made and agree on roles and responsibilities. Assign a primary caregiver.
- Remember that an aging parent values two things most: independence and control. So, invite them into a conversation about their finances. Express care and sensitivity. Be a true collaborator instead of swooping in and taking over.
- Keep the conversations brief. Ask one or two questions at a time. Avoid the holidays with its distractions and choose a quiet location on their turf. Invite them to decide what to address and when.
- Offer to help organize their financial records: estate documents, insurance policies, bank and investment account records, mortgage, debt, and tax information, medications, health insurance, living expenses, bills, and more.
Hopefully, this process can lead to constructive conversations about caregiving options if your aging parent has diminished the ability to live independently. What financial resources do they have access to? What caregiving and housing arrangements do they need? What are their preferences?
Talking to a “senior saint” about their finances is a journey. The goal is progress, not perfection. It may be a messy and slow business. Be patient.
I recently gave a presentation as part of a program at my church, called COAP (Children of Aging Parents). One of the organizers, Chris, jokingly described his caregiving experience with his mother, “She is a travel agent for guilt trips.”
I get it, sometimes when you are not crying, you just have to laugh.
Do the best you can, communicate with love and openness, build a support network, and take care of yourself!
As another COAP speaker, Jan, reminded us: just like on an airplane, “Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting other passengers.”