How to Talk to Your Aging Parents About Money – and 5 Signs They Need Your Help

2 women sitting on a sofa

Seniors face many hurdles in maintaining and managing their finances as they age - loss of income, market fluctuations, and increased medical bills. Rather than waiting for a crisis, here’s how you can proactively help your aging parents and approach the sensitive topic of money with concern and respect.

Getting Started

Before you start talking about money, set your own expectations. Talking with your aging parents about their finances will likely involve several conversations over time. Think about your first conversation as opening the door to the subject, not as a single once-and-done meeting.

Next, focus on outcomes and not money. You want information that will help you to support them if the need arises. Read over this checklist before talking to your parents and complete it with them over time:

Know how to locate:

  • Important documents such as their wills, marriage and birth certificates, military records, titles to property, insurance policies, power of attorney documents, advanced directives such as a living will, mortgages, and tax returns
  • Contact information for their insurance agent, attorney, and financial advisor
  • Financial account information (including online login credentials) for checking, savings, and investment accounts
  • Health insurance information, including Medicare, Medicaid, and supplemental insurance
  • Credit card, loan, and lease documents
  • Safe deposit boxes

Understand their financial situation as it relates to:

  • Monthly bills and how they pay them – online or by check
  • Monthly income
  • Assets and the value of those assets
  • Savings
  • Long-term care insurance and health insurance coverage
  • Debt

Know their wishes for:

  • Home care or assisted living when the time comes
  • Use of life-sustaining treatment if they become unconscious or terminally ill
  • Financial power of attorney
  • Medical power of attorney
  • Help they want or expect from you in the future

Download Checklist

Start Talking

Your first conversation should be to help your parents understand your concerns about their finances. Make sure you coordinate a day and time when everyone can be relaxed and focused. During this discussion, ask your parents to speak with you to better understand basic details about their finances and future wishes.

Follow-up conversations are where you can dig deeper and discover ways to help them take better control of their finances now, and in the future. Remember these conversations may take time. Its important to be gently persistent.

Keep the goal in mind that these conversations about money are to get everyone on the same page in order to alleviate concerns and prevent the stress of needing to untangle their finances during a crisis.

5 Signs Your Parents Need Immediate Help With Their Finances

There may be a time when your parents need you to intervene immediately. The following could be signs of financial difficulty:

  1. Unusual spending patterns: Does your father suddenly talk about his interest in new sweepstakes or contests where he hopes to win a lot of money? Does your mother unexpectedly over-buy necessities or make purchases that don’t fit with her needs or lifestyle? Unusual purchases or spending may signal your parents are victims of scams or indicate impaired judgment or early memory loss.
  2. Stashes of unopened mail: Unopened mail could indicate your parents are getting behind on payments and don’t want to face the reality of the situation. It could also indicate changes in vision or joint and muscle function that make it difficult or impossible to properly manage bill paying.
  3. A focus on money: If your parents suddenly exhibit an unusual or overriding need to complain about money, or you notice that they no longer participate in things they enjoy, they may be concerned about their spending.
  4. New junk mail offers: If you see new junk mail offers about investment opportunities, sweepstakes, vacation properties, or unfamiliar charities, it’s possible your parents are being targeted by scam artists.
  5. Carelessness with cash: Do you notice a parent is hiding money in different places in the house or is holding onto checks instead of depositing them? These could be signs of forgetfulness that can impact financial management.

Talking About Money

Understanding your parents’ finances and keeping the lines of communication about money open are key to helping them enjoy financial stability throughout their golden years. Starting and then continuing the conversation over time, will help your parents feel more empowered about their financial situation and give you peace of mind.