It’s time to talk to your parents about…money

It’s time to talk to your parents about…money


When my dad was around 85 and dealing with health issues, I made some time for the two of us to have lunch together while Mom was off with friends. I told him I’d done some research that I wanted to share.

“Dad,” I said, “A while ago you told me you wanted your memorial to be a bench at the university with your name on it. Well, I called someone to find out if that’s a possibility and what the options are.”

I was a bit concerned that dad wouldn’t want to talk about his mortality, but it turns out he was grateful for the conversation. Later, I was even able to arrange for him to choose the exact spot where his bench would be installed.

Talking about the end of life is difficult, but I’m glad I did. Talking about money can be just as awkward. It’s easy to imagine an older parent feeling like you’re plotting their demise. That’s why these conversations need to happen with sensitivity. In fact, you might find that older parents have been thinking about this more than you realize. It’s important for you to understand your parents’ financial situation, for many reasons.

For starters, you’ll want to know if their money will last, or whether you may have to support them in the future. Also, depending on your parents’ assets there are things they can do while they’re still around to benefit children and grandchildren. But if you’re in the dark about your parent’s financial situation and their wishes, you’re just waiting to be surprised later.

Your parents are probably more ready than you think

If you haven’t had these discussions yet, it could be your own squeamishness that’s holding you back. It’s hard to face the fact that someday the people you love will no longer be with you. The reality is that once someone reaches their 70s and 80s, they’ve lost many friends already and they’re likely to be regular obituary readers. It tends to make them very clear eyed about the future.

Having tricky discussions with your aging parents may just be a matter of finding the right moment. Remember, it isn’t something you drop on them the day you arrive on a holiday visit. If you’ve never broached the topic before, take it slow. It’s important to respect how your parents feel, and that probably means a lot of listening at first.

If you tune into what your parents are thinking about, you may find the right opening for the money conversation. For example, if they tell you about a friend’s passing you could bring up the importance of estate planning. Or discussions about a grandchild’s college plans may be a jumping-off point for broader financial topics. It’s likely that once you open the door, you’ll all begin to feel more comfortable. But also, be sure it doesn’t become the only thing you’re talking about.

Planning together

The process of creating a financial plan can be a useful catalyst for money discussions with older parents. Tell your parents you’re working on your own financial plan and imagine how proud they’ll feel – they raised you well. This also gives you an opportunity to talk about the assumptions you can build into your plan around gifts, inheritance, and even support for your kids’ college.

Your financial plan gives you tangible and objective information to share and discuss. You can also help your parents understand the importance of having a financial plan of their own, with everything spelled out so there’s no confusion or disagreements when the time comes for family members to carry out their wishes.

My dad’s bench has been installed exactly where he wanted it, on the campus where he spent 40 years of his working life. I went by there the other day and sat for a while, thinking about how Dad would be pleased that I’m helping Mom with her finances. How I’m making sure she has a plan for her lifetime and her legacy.

Questions to ask yourself before talking to parents about money

  • What’s important to you – making sure your parents have enough money, supporting the next generation, or just knowing their wishes?
  • Are you open to hearing about their wishes, even if they don’t fully align with your expectations?
  • Are you able to include siblings in the conversation, and what role do you expect them to play?

Action Steps

  • Even if your parents aren’t ready to share the contents of their will, ask them to make sure it’s up to date and to let you know where it’s filed.
  • Talk to your parents about documenting their choice for power of attorney (POA). The individual(s) designated with POA should know where to locate all important documents in case they’re called on to make decisions on behalf of a parent.
  • As your parents begin sharing financial information with you, ask them if you can keep a record of their accounts and passwords in a safe place.
  • Your parents’ interests and values should always be at the forefront. If you’re recommending a certain action, you should be able to explain how it aligns with their wishes.

Please contact us at 206.217.2583 or if we can assist you or someone you know with financial planning.

Liz is a Late Boomer in the sandwich generation who started an independent writing and brand consulting practice after years as a senior marketing executive. She lives in Seattle, Washington. Her mother lives nearby and her daughter comes home during college breaks.

The foregoing content reflects the opinions of Liz Behlke and is subject to change at any time without notice. Content provided herein is for informational purposes only and should not be used or construed as investment advice or a recommendation regarding the purchase or sale of any security. There is no guarantee that the statements, opinions or forecasts provided herein will prove to be correct. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. Indices are not available for direct investment. Any investor who attempts to mimic the performance of an index would incur fees and expenses which would reduce returns Securities investing involves risk, including the potential for loss of principal. There is no assurance that any investment plan or strategy will be successful.