How to talk to your parents about money

Saving for retirement

Tess Vigeland: Whether mom and dad end up paying you to help take care of them, at some point you'll have to talk about their financial situation. Or at least, you should. But talking to your parents about money is as hard -- or harder -- than talking to your kids about it. So, when is the best time to have "the talk" and what needs to be addressed?

Here with some answers is Carolyn Rosenblatt. She's a co-founder of AgingParents.com and author of the book "Boomer's Guide to Aging Parents." Welcome to the program.

Carolyn Rosenblatt: Thank you so much.

Vigeland: When is the right time to start this conversation with mom and dad about how they're doing with money?

Rosenblatt: Well, there's a rule of thumb that some people to use. There's no one set time, but I think if your parents are in their 70s and you're in your 40s, it's certainly not too early.

Vigeland: Then let's look at what hte best way is to start that conversation, because it's not an easy one.

Rosenblatt: One of the best ways to get them engaged in any conversation is to start with a different subject. Get them talking about themselves, get them talking about their lives, get them talking about what retirement was like, whatever. And that opens the door to being able to ask some of hte real questions.

Vigeland: Honestly, asking that question -- "mom and dad, how are you doing with your finances?" -- that's... I don't wanna do that!

Rosenblatt: Well, no. Most people are very hesitant, because money is an emotionally charged issue. And emotions are really what get underneath the conflicts that people have. And since I'm in the conflict-resolution business, I can tell you that money is probably the most common issue that comes up in families and causes them to get into fights with each other. You've got to be honest about your own emotions. Your own emotions are the ones that stop you from going forward. Their emotions of fear and maybe being afraid of not having control, are maybe what's stopped them from talking about this.

Vigeland: What do you do if the reaction you get after, you know, nicely and empathetically asking how the money situation is, what if the answer is "I've taken care of everything. Don't worry about it"?

Rosenblatt: Certainly, you don't want to start out making a demand of your parents that they tell you about their money. Beyond quietly thinking about how you want to relate to them and expecting that they're gonna give you some push back, you really want to tell them how you want it to turn out. For example, you might want to say, instead of "Tell me about how your money is doing," "I hope we can have a talk about your future and how I can help." That would be a better approach; that's making a request instead of a demand.

And we also come at our parents sometimes based on their past behavior. For example, if mom has never been comfortable with money and avoids money and you know that, you might walk in and say, "Don't avoid this, mom." That's really telling her what you don't want her to do and she's gonna close down. And that's one of the things that makes conflict worse. So, what we want to do is say something like, "I'd like your cooperation, mom."

Vigeland: What do you need to know? What are the basics that you should be aware of as an adult child?

Rosenblatt: Well, we certainly need to know what their assets are. Do they have enough to live on? Are they going to run out of money and are we going to have to pitch in? This is an all-too common scenario, because of longevity. People are living longer, they are outliving their assets. And their adult children don't know in advance and can't make any plans, and they're caught unawares. I think knowing what's available to support parents as they age, and especially to care for them, because that gets quite expensive. That's a very fundamental thing that everyone needs to know.

And another thing we all need to know, the obvious, where is the parents' money? Where are the banks? What are the passwords? What are the account numbers? Do they have the legal authority and someone else to sign paperwork and get into those accounts to help parents access their own money when they're disabled? These are essentials, fundamental things that we all need to know.

Vigeland: Carolyn Rosenblatt is the co-founder of AgingParents.com and the author of the book "Boomer's Guide to Aging Parents." Thanks so much.

Rosenblatt: Thank you very much.

About the author

Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...