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Ten tips for talking about money with your aging parents

Something happens to make you realize things are changing. Your mom starts repeating herself. Your father keeps losing his keys. One of your parents needs emergency surgery. It hits you: “My parents aren’t young anymore.”

Due to medical advances, people are living longer than ever before. The upside is that many senior citizens enjoy active lives, continue to work, and remain productive members of our society. The downside is that the chance of you having to care for an elderly parent at some point in your adulthood has increased. The best way to handle this reality is to engage your parents in a money talk. Of course, the tricky part is getting them to agree to participate.

Tricky or not, having the money talk with aging parents protects the entire family. It helps your parents plan for their needs as they age, and gives them a chance to spend their remaining years according to their wishes. It helps you understand the types of financial and emotional demands in your own future.

Here are 10 tips to consider when discussing financial matters with an aging parent.

Tip #1: Identify and Process Your Feelings Before The Invitation

Talking to parents about their estate plans, financial situation, and healthcare wishes is emotional business. Before you invite them to discuss these matters, take time to process your own feelings. You may be annoyed, angry, frustrated, sad, or scared about their situation. Whatever your emotional state, know that it is normal and healthy to have a reaction to your parents aging. By giving yourself some time and space to experience your feelings, you are more likely to approach your parent in a calm, respectful manner, and increase your chances of success.

Tip #2: Extend a Loving Invitation

Lead with loving intentions and let your parents know that you want to discuss their financial life because you care. Begin by saying something like, “I know this might be difficult for you to talk about, but I care enough about you to want to make sure you’re taken care of as you age. Can we find a time to discuss what plans you have made and how I might be able to help you in making sure everything is taken care of?” Or, if there has been a specific healthcare crisis, you may want to say, “These last few months have been hard on you as you recover from your heart attack. I noticed that paying bills and keeping up with finances has gotten a little more challenging. Can we find a time to talk about how I might be able to help you keep up with your bills so you can continue to focus on getting well?” This approach shows that you care and allows the other person to decide when and where to have the conversation.

Tip #3: Ask During a Quiet Time

Finding a quiet time to ask your parents to engage in a financial dialogue with you is essential. Be certain to avoid busy holiday times or events where you are likely to be distracted. If you are from a large family, decide who is the best person to approach your parent with this request. It is best to have one or two siblings talk to mom and dad first to avoid parents feeling ganged up on.

While you may want talk today about money, remember your parent may need some time to adjust to the idea of discussing their finances with their children. A little planning and patience is likely to pay off.

Tip #4: Be Specific About Your Concerns

When sharing your concerns with a parent, be specific. For example, if you are worried that your mother has been the victim of a telephone scam targeted at the elderly, let her know that. Say something like, “Mom, I love you very much and I want what is best for you. Last month, I noticed a $100 charge on the credit card bill from the Orphans and Widow Fund. I did some research and I found out that this organization doesn’t exist. I am worried that you may have been taken advantage of financially. I would like to help you not get hurt like this again in the future. What do you think?” If you express loving concern and are specific about the cause of your worry, your parent is more likely to understand your actions. In addition, asking for their input allows your parent to maintain dignity while accepting assistance.

Tip #5: Keep the Conversations Brief

Once your parent has agreed to a money talk, keep the conversation brief. You may have a million questions for mom or dad, but asking one or two questions at a time is better than bombarding your parent with inquires. While you may have been thinking about this money talk for months leading up to it, this is a new conversation for your parent. Give them time to digest what you are saying and respond. It is better to have three 30-minute talks than one 90-minute conversation. Not only does this keep everyone focused on one task or discussion item at a time, it helps everyone stay calm and rational.

Tip #6: Give Your Parent Control Whenever Possible

A big part of aging is dealing with a loss of control over your physical and mental health. Parents know that in time, they will need more support, but often don’t want to face this reality. When discussing how you can help them with financial matters, reassure them that this is not an attempt to take over their life, simply an offer to help them as they age. Whenever possible, invite your parent to decide what to address and when. Even if it’s difficult, ask your mom for her input and then really listen to her requests. Or give your dad a few options and then start with the one that is his priority. While you may want to proceed differently, know that these small gestures go a long way in reassuring your loved one that their voice still matters.

Tip #7: Take Baby Steps

When a parent needs help with their finances, there are often many pieces in the puzzle. Instead of tackling them all at once, it is important to take baby steps. Otherwise, you risk overwhelming your parent as well as yourself. Taking action and checking things off your to-do list may make you feel good. But you need to consider how it might impact your loved one. Often as people age, their cognitive ability is impaired, making it wise to break complex processes into small, doable steps.

Tip #8: Be Curious

Remember that a healthy dose of curiosity can save a conversation. When approaching a parent, tap into your beginner’s mind and wonder about their perspective. This can be challenging as you have a long history with a parent. Remember that when you have known someone for a long time, it becomes easier to fall into the trap of reading minds, or jumping to conclusions. Fight this urge and remember this is a new conversation at a new point in time in your relationship. Wonder, and leave your assumptions at the door.

Tip #9: Take a Time Out If Needed

Discussing needs as they age, their health care needs and their estate plan can be emotional. Therefore, if the conversation gets overheated or a member of the family gets overly defensive, take a time-out. Set another meeting date in the near future that allows everyone to calm down and refocus on the task at hand. The most effective communication happens when all parties are open to hearing each other as opposed to fighting.

Tip #10: Enlist a Trusted Advisor to Facilitate Difficult Conversations

Financial advisors are great resources when it comes to helping you talk to your parents about money, estate plans, and end-of-life wishes. Don’t hesitate to use your advisor as a resource for information, support, or guidance on this matter. Acting as a neutral party, the advisor can offer their financial expertise, facilitate a difficult conversation, and provide referrals to other professionals such as estate planning attorneys, healthcare advocates, home health aides, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes.

Talking to aging parents about their finances is not a one-time conversation. It is an ongoing dialogue. While it may be challenging to begin the discussion, they can be rewarding and provide great comfort to both you and your parent.

About the Author:

Kathleen Burns Kingsbury is a wealth psychology expert, founder of KBK Wealth Connection, host of the Breaking Money Silence® podcast, and the author of several books including How to Give Financial Advice to Women, How to Give Financial Advice to Couples, and Breaking Money Silence®. For more information, www.breakingmoneysilence.com and www.kbkwealthconnection.com.