Opening the Door to Helping Your Parents

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My Parents by aprilandrandy on Flickr!Yesterday, I called my parents just to see how they’re doing. I usually give them a call two or three times a week and talk for most of an hour, mostly with my mother.

During the conversation, we talked about my father’s health. He’s in his mid-sixties and still in pretty good shape, but he’s lost a step or two from when I was a kid. He’s still incredibly active, but he can’t spend a whole day cutting firewood like we would do when I was a kid.

Another interesting aspect of the conversation is that since I’ve moved into parenthood, clearly establishing my own family, my parents have opened up to me about things that they previously didn’t talk about. My parents have revealed to me some minor health scares over the last few years – things they would have never told me about when I was younger. Thankfully, they’re both doing completely fine right now, but those little scares really make clear one fact.

My parents are starting to get old.

In a lot of ways, it’s hard for me to take. I think of my early childhood, when my father was in his thirties and my mother was in her twenties. I remember when I was about ten or eleven and my father would come out in the driveway, pull off his shirt, and we’d play basketball. I remember my mother rolling out of bed in the morning and not slowing down until she fell in bed in the evening, raising kids, canning vegetables, doing laundry, and countless other things. I remember when it seemed like my parents’ house was always full of kids – not just me and my brothers, but countless neighbors and other people. My parents were basically surrogate parents of a lot of kids that lived near us.

Now, it’s just the two of them. My father’s beard has turned white, as has my mother’s hair. They’re both retired and living on Social Security and a pension.

And when I see them, I realize something has happened. We’re moving from the time where they took care of me to the time when I should help take care of them.

But what does that really mean? What kind of help should I provide for my parents? What kind of help do they actually need? What does their situation really look like? Would they be happy if I took an interest, or would they not like it at all?

paysI know I certainly wonder about these questions, and I have for quite a while. I’ve read through It Pays to Talk multiple times along with countless other articles and materials on the issue, reflecting not only on how to talk to my own parents, but how others can talk to their parents about these issues. Here are the key tactics I’ve found for making it work.

Know where you stand
Before you even think about addressing such a conversation with your parents, spend some time really understanding exactly what you want out of this. Are you authentically expecting a piece of the estate? Will you be authentically hurt if your parents are in a lot of debt that they didn’t tell you about? Why? What if they are making unexpected choices with their estate, like leaving more to one child than another or leaving most of their money to an organization you don’t agree with? How does that make you feel? Would these things make you angry?

At an earlier point in my life, I was often frustrated when I thought about such things. It took me a while to really realize that these choices are my parents’ choices, and theirs alone. My role should just be to help them and to make sure that their wishes and choices are carried out just as they wish. If you still harbor strongly-held opinions on what you think they should be doing (not in terms of specifics, but in general direction), you’ll likely have a difficult time having a constructive conversation. Spend some time reflecting carefully on it and don’t move forward with a discussion until you can do so with a clear mind, a clean conscience, and a clean heart.

Be straightforward and thoroughly honest
Usually, such a talk with your parents isn’t a path you’ll take unless you’re harboring some concerns. You are far better off clearly stating those concerns right up front, as clearly as you can. Say exactly what’s in your mind and in your heart, even if it’s not a comfortable thing to say. If you’re worried about how they’ll pay for their retirement years, say so. If you’re worried about what they expect of you in those years, say so. If you’re worried about whether they’re in a situation where they’ll have to work forever, say so. If you’re worried about their estate planning and whether or not it’s in place at all or whether it actually reflects what they want, say so.

You are a concerned child. You love your parents and you want their final years to be as good as possible. You also want to make sure that their wishes are carried out in the event of their demise. Speak from the heart and make it clear that you love them, care for them, and want these things to happen for them.

Get appropriate people involved
This need not be just a talk between you alone and your parents. You may want to get some or all of your siblings involved with this process as well and perhaps other family friends or relatives involved. Don’t just view this as a situation between you and your parents, because it’s bigger than that – it’s about helping your parents plan their future.

If you’re involving siblings and other members, you may want to talk with them first and suggest that they read this article. They should also be on the side of helping your parents come up with strong and sensible plans for their later years.

Remember, though, that you don’t have to involve others. There may be good reason to just make this a conversation between just you and your parents. Just don’t immediately exclude people when you consider it.

Choose a pleasant and comfortable environment
You should choose an environment and situation for such conversations that makes everyone feel as comfortable as possible. If your parents are still living in the house you grew up in, this is probably the best choice. Make sure everyone involved as some basic amenities available to them – good coffee or other beverages, a simple snack, and so forth. If the place needs straightening up, do it in advance before talking.

The point is to do everything you can to maximize everyone’s comfort level. This discussion is likely to push some comfort zones a bit, so you should take every effort to reduce any other potential intrusions on comfort as well as provide little touches that help reduce inhibitions and raise everyone’s comfort. You’re much more likely to have everyone involve express some candor if everyone feels as comfortable as possible in the situation.

Check your ego (and temper) at the door
It can be tempting to believe that you know the best solution for your parents and that any talk you have about the situation should just be a matter of you telling them what they should do. That’s ego, and it should not be a part of this conversation. Similarly, you may find yourself getting angry at your parents because they aren’t following the same logical path that you would follow. That’s anger, and it shouldn’t be a part of this conversation, either.

Your role here is to be assistance for them unless they ask you to be more than that. You should have your own ideas, of course, but that does not mean your parents should immediately jump on board and follow those ideas. If you find yourself getting angry or frustrated, take a break. Excuse yourself, go to the bathroom, and just sit there for a minute and collect yourself. Remember that these are not your choices. You’re merely trying to help your parents make their own choices.

Ask what they want, not what you want
In many families, there are going to be family political angles to this talk. You might view this situation as competition with your siblings for some share of the estate or perhaps you view this as an opportunity to keep some undeserving child out of the picture.

Don’t. If you go in there with this attitude, you’re focused only on what you want. Such thoughts and goals aren’t about your parents, they’re about you. The purpose of having a talk with your parents about their situation is to help them, not help you. Ask what they want, and abide by it. Don’t tell them what they want – because, likely, that’s what you want – and they’ll know it.

Open the books together
If your parents are in a deep debt situation, they may want to just tell you what the situation is and not show you. The real truth lies in the numbers and raw facts of the situation, and you can’t actually help them without knowing the truth of their situation.

If you find yourself in this situation, suggest that you walk through all of the information together – in fact, this is always a good policy to follow. If they refuse, then you should not give them further advice, since you’d be offering ideas and suggestions based on incorrect information. You can talk about issues such as estate planning, but in terms of helping them or offering help, you can’t make a fair or reasonable offer or suggestion with incorrect or false information as a basis. Tell them that you would love to help them, but you don’t want to mislead them along the way, and leave it at that. They may choose to come around later, but that’s out of your control.

Remember, giving advice based on false data is giving extremely bad advice. You may be driven to help, but giving them advice when you suspect that the underlying information is wrong doesn’t help – it hurts. If you find yourself here, back away in the most pleasant way you can.

Look at what they’ll realistically need at retirement and after
Good topics to cover: their current budget, their current retirement savings, their target retirement date, how they’re saving for retirement, their budget after retirement, and their insurance coverage (especially health insurance and long term care insurance). These together will provide plenty of food for thought for all of you.

Be very clear on their post-retirement plans. Many parents harbor a plan to eventually live with their children, while other parents don’t have any plan at all beyond not wanting to be a bother to you. Encourage them to think about what exactly they want to do when they retire. Do they want to continue to live in their home, or do they want to downsize? What about their later years – are they planning for nursing home care? These are hard questions, but they need to be out there on the table.

Be clear about your role and how you’re willing to help – don’t waffle
Make it very clear what things you’re willing to offer to make the lives of your parents easier in their later years. If you’re open to them moving in with you, say so. If you’re able to provide some regular financial support, say so. If you’re willing to do the detail work of all of their planning, say so. Be very clear about what you can and can’t do to help them.

They may take you up on certain pieces of your offer and not others – and that’s fine. Be open to their needs and ready to help with what they want.

Walk through the necessary estate planning questions
Ask about life insurance. Ask about a will or a living trust. Clarify who the executors and/or trustees on such documents should be. Clarify where the property should be assigned to. Talk about a master information document.

Even more important, if your parents don’t have any of these, offer to help them through the process of setting it up. Quite often, people want to have such things, but they put it off because it seems like a lot of work. Having someone on hand to help you through it makes the process seem more manageable.

Offer, don’t push
When you’re talking, you’re going to have ideas and recommendations for your parents. You might even know the thing they should be doing. Don’t push. Go through the options and add what you would do, but don’t tell them which path to take. Let them make the decision.

You might find that they lean towards a different option than you’d like. Don’t fight them on it, even if you view the choice as not realistic. Instead, be consoled by the fact that they are in fact looking at the situation and making decisions and that you are aware of what those choices actually are. You can then move forward on supporting them in that choice.

Do something pleasant and unrelated afterwards
I’ve found that every time in which I’ve had to have a serious discussion with a friend or a family member on something like this, it’s been helpful to do something very pleasant and unrelated afterwards – like a family meal, for example. Don’t just walk out of the door at the end of the planning – instead, cement the bond you already share.

Follow up
Remember that this is just the first step in a long conversation. Don’t let the progress you’ve made falter. Follow up on the things you’ve pledged to do, and let your parents know that you’re concerned and are thinking about things as well. This is a process, not a one-time thing, and you need to follow up.

Good luck, especially if you’re like me and this topic has been on your mind for a while.

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43 thoughts on “Opening the Door to Helping Your Parents

  1. Trent,
    You are fortunate to have “healthy” parents.
    My father is in his mid-fifties and has suffered with depression and anxiety for as long as I have been alive.
    It has taken a HUGE emotional and financial toll on our family and the worst part about this type of mental illness is that few people understand how devastating it can be.
    Contrary to a physical disease such as a heart condition or even Cancer, which people can somewhat understand, depression and other mental illnesses can be just as debilitating but are rarely understood at all by most people.
    That is the most frustrating part of it all.
    - Tyler

  2. Lots of good ideas here for a very difficult subject. I could probably use a checklist like this in my business when talking to clients. Thanks, Trent.

  3. Great post. I’m going to forward this to my parents, who are starting to worry about my grandparents’ abilities to take care of themselves. It can be a touchy situation, but for everyone’s well-being, sometimes these subjects need to be broached.

  4. I am going to take an unpopular stand – my opinion is that it is the parents responsibility to make sure their affairs are in order. They should take care of it – THEY are the parents. If we are discussing parents that are in their 60′s – they have had time in life to learn and prepare. Certainly if they make it to their 0′s and 80′s then hopefully all their ducks are in a row. I think the greatest gift a parent can give to their child is to be the parent in this instance.

  5. Sally you are correct, but you have to factor in debilitating diseases and fuzzy judgment as they get older. They invested their lives in us, it seems fair to give back.

    My parents are older as well, and I’m an only child. So all of the responsibility falls on my shoulders. Not exactly looking forward to that…

  6. @Sally

    I have to second your comment. Parents having their ducks in a row is truly the greatest gift any parent can give their child. My parents do and I don’t have to worry about them, it is my in-law that have me worried sick. My FIL wants to “leave” his children and grandchildren “something” but right now he has so much debt I don’t know if that plan is realistic. I know it worries them and I’m just sick over it. They are a little older then my parents and if they had been a bit wiser and a little less greedy, they would be enjoying a retirement few of us could only dream about. That, however, is a whole other story!

  7. In my experience folks in their 60s are generally okay. In their 70s? Now we’re talking… most should consider a downsized home and extra care at about 75 and they’re likely not going to be on their own at 80+.

  8. Sally, while you are right that one of the greatest gifts a parents can give to their child is to have been well-prepared for these situations, the reality is that for a multitude of reasons this might not have been accomplished.

    As the children in these sceanarios we can choose to wash our hands of it, but eventually the mess will fall on us in one way or another unless we also walk away from our parents completely. If I don’t get involved in the planning of the second part of my parents life, and then they end up sick and in need of care and I have no information on what their finances, benefits, or wishes are, then unless I have disowened them, I am in the mess just as much as they are.

    Obviously your situation may be different and you are entitled to feel and handle thigns any way you wish, but in my life (and the lives of many others) ignoring the situation is only going to create a worse one down the road.

  9. Trent, as you know my Mom is going through a fight for her life as we type–she suffered a giant brain aneurysm two months ago, and a stroke while recovering from her third surgery (she is only 53). She has been in intensive care since September 12th.

    It has been a devastating time–emotionally and financially. I’ve taken over most of her affairs as she is unable to speak or write. We made preparations for this ahead of her operation “just in case.” After all she has done for me as a single mom, I certainly don’t mind helping now. However, as Sally points out in another comment, one of the best things you can do for your own kids is be prepared to take care of yourself in old age. It is certainly a lesson I’ve taken away from this experience.

  10. I’m very worried about my parents’ finances, especially after getting mine in order this year and seeing that there’s a better way to do things.

    I wish they’d be open to having these kinds of conversations, but it just isn’t going to happen. My dad doesn’t even know how much money my mom makes, and they’ve been married over 35 years. He’s never known how much she makes.

    As much as I love them and as wonderful as they are as parents, I was determined not to repeat their example of finances in a marriage. My husband and I have joint accounts, and although I keep up with the finances, every month I print a detailed summary for him to review so that we’re on the same page.

    I feel bad that I can’t help them, but money is something they’re unwilling to discuss, especially my mom. And if that can of worms ever opened, I don’t think they’d be capable of having a civil conversaion. Money is a very emotional topic.

  11. While I agree that it is parental responsibility to have these matters under control, I think there is also a responsibility to share at least the high level plan with the people who will help make that plan a reality. My sister’s mother-in-law had a sudden stroke at 57 and no one in the family knew what she would want in terms of treatment – spare not expense or minimally invasive? They didn’t know if she had long term care insurance should she recover from her coma. She had recently opened new bank accounts and no one knew how to access them.

    While most of this article focuses on the retirement and estate planning, I think a more important place to start is with these “living will” and should something awful happen, where do we look for what we need to help you? That might give you a better entrance to the rest of the retirement planning and estate planning conversation.

  12. I’ll also add that my husband and I bought a few acres of land, less than five minutes away from my parents, on which we plan to build our home. So at least I’ll be nearby if they have health problems or need any kind of help, and with four acres of land, it’d be quite easy to build a small bungalow or add on to our home if they ever needed to move in with us. As an only child, I don’t have the option of a sibling helping out (though from what I’ve seen, having siblings doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have help with your parents).

  13. Final note–yes, it’s really the parents’ responsibility, but I’m not turning my back on the two people who have given me everything, who have always put me first, who put me through college…I could never be so heartless. And I genuinely love them, so seeing them struggle would be very difficult. I couldn’t dimiss it as “their problem.”

  14. Sally – I COMPLETELY disagree with you. It’s so easy to just blame parents for not having their fiscal house in order and using this to justify shirking responsibility. Children may never know that the reason their parents’ financial house isn’t in order is because perhaps their parents spent large chunks of their money on their children, doing what’s best for them. Helping parents should not be thought of as doing them a favor – it is a duty, just like raising your own children is.

  15. My parents will be 60 this year, and I suspect that they will still make large life decisions that will affect these conversations. My mom should have divorced my father a long time ago, and occasionally makes baby steps to forward that, but inertia and a fear of social disapproval keep her married. If I married, set up my own household, and invited her (alone) to live with me or nearby, she’d jump on a plane the next day, so I don’t think she’s terribly concerned about staying in her house when she ages. But she’s an accountant, so she worries a lot about saving and getting the value of the house. But there’s no way anyone can help her plan financial until she decides whether she is going to divorce.

  16. This is a tough situation when you come from a dysfunctional family. DH’s mom believes she will be living with us when she gets old and believes we’ll be supporting her (she thinks we already should be sending her money). We have no such plans. She feels entitled to what we have because she was DH’s mom (even though she was never around and was drunk when she was).

    She put DH through hell growing up and he does not even like to be around her. It’s really hard in this kind of situation to figure out what do to. She fully expects to be taken care of and believes DH turned out so wonderful because she was a good mother. She often makes comments about how he owes her because of some shoes or a bike she bought him growing up (which his grandparents actually bought because they supported her all along and are still supporting her).

    It’s really hard to deal with familial situations when they’re strained. How do you tell someone they’re on their own and they need to learn to live with the consquences of their actions. She’s been enabled by other family members her whole life and they’re getting tired of her and want to pass her off on us. We still haven’t figured out how to handle the situation.

    There’s no talking to her, when she asks for money we refuse eand offer to help her set up a budget and get her finances in order but she refuses. She complains about being poor but feels like she “deserves” to spend her money on whatever she wants. Very frustrating. I think it will get rather ugly later on down the line.

  17. About what ‘should’ happen… If my parents have been both wise enough and lucky enough to have their financial affairs in order, and there are no surprise/curveball life events that muck things up, then I can go about ‘enjoying’ my adult years without worries or ‘demands’. If, through their own failure or by chance, they need help, then I get to experience a new period in my own life- a time to demonstrate my ability to love them as they need to be loved- through action, to confront new challenges and grow as a result. I think the second situation offers much, including the experience of seeing life come full circle– We come into the world helpless and dependent, and many of us leave the same way. Ultimately we don’t get to choose– even the best prepared parents sometimes fall (which is another learning experience for us) and sometimes the parents that have everything ‘all set’ and do not need us, drift away and we drift apart. I think there can be great value in either situation if you approach thoughtfully.

  18. This article comes at a great time. I had a recent conversation with my sister who found out my mom has most of her 403(b) in stock eevn though she is only a few years from retirement. I don’t know all the detail, but am hoping to start a conversation with my parents so we can discuss any issues. I worry the most about the fact that my mom is worried and nervous about the stock market and her retirement. I don’t think it’s actually as big an issue as it could be, but I want my mom to be comfortable with her situation. Things could be worse, but luckily my mom also has a pension and my parents have several rentals (all with paid off mortgages) and own their home as well. Talking with my parents and siblings will hopefully give everyone some peace of mind and the right knowledge about any changes needed for the future.
    Lisa C.

  19. I’m surprised at how much emphasis you put on letting them make the decision, not pushing, etc. I’ve never talked seriously with my parents about it, but if I were to, I’d defintely push them in certain directions because I have more knowledge about a lot of financial stuff. In my case we aren’t talking “leave your money to me, not my sister”, but rather “this is what you should do to make sure you will have enough money to get by.”

    Sally–Sure it is the parents responsibility, but if you can tell your parents didn’t get it right, don’t you think it is your responsibility to speak up before it is too late? It isn’t as though anyone is going to turn there back and say “well, it was your job, and you blew it.”

  20. @Joe & Sally:
    In a way, you are both right. This will change from person to person depending on the situation. I wouldn’t hesitate to help my mother — she has made many, many sacrifices for her children and grandchildren throughout her life, and those sacrifices may have kept her from realizing her full financial potential. I’ll happily take her in if the time comes, just as I happily pay for her health insurance now (she lives on the other side of the country).

    OTOH-I wouldn’t give my father a nickel if his life depended on it. He’s always been a taker, and made the lives of his various wives and children hell as a result. When he called me for a $500 loan last year, I declined, but made a $500 donation to a local battered womens’ shelter in his name instead. At least something good might come from his wasted life.

    Being a sperm/egg donor doesn’t make one deserving of help; being a parent does.

  21. I wanted to claify my original post. I 1st think it’s the parents responsibility to have their affairs in order. It starts with them. That being said, if it’s about your parents being without food or shelter or medication – well then that is a different ballgame. My parents sold their home (while my mom was still alive) and downsized into an apartment. Their funeral arrangements have been paid for. My dad is still alive in an apartment he can manage. He’s almost 75.

    My mother in law is still in her own home – which she still owes money on and goes on vacations, eats out, etc. Now this is her perogative. However, to the best of my knowledge, her affairs are not in order. She is 82.

    For me, I will go by my parents example for my children – I will try to not be a financial burden on them. That was my basic point. And as proven by some of the comments, it seems that the emotional dsyfunction and financial dysfunction go hand in hand.

  22. Even if your parent’s have a ton of money at the time of retirement, the adult children are probably still going to have to help out. Help them move when the time comes, sell their stuff to downsize, get them to doctor appointments, help them manage thier money if they can’t. I learned all about this a year ago when my father was diagonsed with Alzheimers. There are a lot of things my parents just can’t do now and it falls to me. That’s just the reality of it. We all think we are going to live to 95 and die in our sleep after a round of golf. It just doesn’t go down like that. The reality is really hard. Just another reason to be good to your kids…..

  23. SP: I imagine the reason Trent is focusing on listening rather than pushing plans is that parents are adults. Treating them like children who need to be told what is best for them is only going to breed resistance. If you manage to convey to your parents that you respect their autonomy and only want to help them reach their own goals, they are much more likely in the end to listen to your suggestions when you do make them.

  24. Sally – it should be the parents’ responsibility, and I think Trent indicates that at least implicitly. However, they could have everything in order but someone has to have the talk with them to know who their lawyer is, where the will/trust documents are, where the healthcare directive is, etc.

  25. I’ve been a reader of this blog for a year or so, as well as several other financial and frugal living type of blogs. My mother is 86 and lives in a retirement apartment. I am also a retiree who will become eligible for Medicare next month, and the DH turned 70 last summer, so that gives me a somewhat different persepective from some of the rest of you. We raised 4 children and buried one of them, which is the saddest thing any parent will ever have to do.

    This is not the first time I’ve seen this sort of topic come up as younger people stuggle to find the right approach to helping their parents or family members with respect to their financial planning and or management. However…caution please! We (the senior population) are not all totally ignorant of the facts, nor have we not thought about our current and future situations. My mother at 86 is totally independent in her money management. What do I know about her situation? I know that she has a will carefully crafted to provide (if there is anything left after her life expenses are covered) for my disabled 61 year old sister and the remainder to me, whatever that may be. I know that she has health care insurance, long term care insurance, savings in CDs and one very conservative annuity (don’t ask me why…she wanted it, that’s why), and her funeral is planned and paid for. Other than that, I do NOT know how much comes in each month from her (actually my father’s) SS, and from her two small pensions, and I don’t know how much money she has in her checking account. I know that I am the executor of her estate, and that she has a living will and a power of attorney document in place. She does worry about outliving her money, but she worries about everything, including whether it will rain too much for the farmers to get their crops in and she was never a farmer in her life! She has chosen to move to a retirement apartment and can transition into their nursing home should that ever become necessary. She was widowed at age 67 and both of my parents worked all of their lives.

    My situation is different, as is every single person or parent. Some will need more help than others and will want it and welcome it. On the other hand, if one of my kids came into our home and tried to tell us what to do, I can assure you I’d tell them to take a hike!! Likewise, we’ve provided them with enough information to make sure they can deal with our estate when that is necessary. They’re welcome to come see us any time and to visit and to have good family times, but frankly, just because I’m 65 and my DH is 70 doesn’t mean we’re out to pasture yet!! They all know we have a will, who the executor is, that we want to be cremated, etc., etc. And just to be ornery, I’m thinking about amending the will and adding a clause that requires them to trade off keeping our cremains in their homes for 5 or so years after we die.

    Sorry about the length of this one, but this can be a really tender topic with parents, so I urge you to all tread very carefully.

  26. I agree that it is better to know your parents wishes, whether they want life sustaining measures, where the money is – how’s i’s to be allocated, etc. However, I guess it’s a timing issue as well – and it depends on the kind of relationship that you have with your parents. It’s about being willing as a parent to have some transparency with your children. And as a lot of adult children are finding out – this isn’t an easy road. And of course I would help with moving, etc. I am speaking more about the concepts involving your parents and their money, wishes, expectations…..their life…….

  27. I would add one suggestion (to this really good article) after seeing my momgo through this recently. If the involved siblings have a good relationship (and the 3 in question do; they all simply want what is best for their mother) then don’t be offended if the parent has subjects s/he only discusses with each. Despite constantly fretting to 2 siblings about money, she would only sit down with her financial adviser to look at the real numbers with the 3rd sibling. Does it make sense? Nope. Does it have to? Nope. Sibling 3 helped reassure her everything was fine and was able to then talk with the other 2 siblings about their mom’s financial situation. She only wanted to talk about the nitty-gritty details of downsizing with my mom who then had to fill her sibs in on it. I think the fact that the 3 of them were able to put ego aside and just work within her parameters made the process a lot easier.

  28. I recently heard someone say that we spend more years taking care of our parents than we do taking care of our children.

    I put a lot of effort into raising my daughter. I can anticipate that taking care of parents will also require lots of tough decisions and research. I am looking forward to it and hope that my position in life enables me to do the things I want and spend the time I want with and caring for my parents.

  29. I thought my father-in-law had done a pretty good job with this w/r/t his folks. He had a handle on their income and expenses (even from across the country) and kept the other siblings in the loop. They were able to communicate little “extras” that were needed over the years– one time they all pitches in to get grandma new wall-papering downstairs, as she and grandpa were way past the age they could do it themselves.

    But they never went over ALL the books with a fine-toothed comb. After grandpa’s rapid decline and death a few months ago, f-i-l had to really step in and go through everything because there was much more paperwork than grandma could handle, plus she really needed to move to light assisted living. Buried in the reams of paperwork was a LOT more money than anybody had known about– small, community-based life insurance funds, purchased piecemeal through the 1950s, 60s and 70s, had snowballed into about 500K. While grandma and grandpa were always, always depression-era penny pinchers, I think even THEY would have splurged a little bit if they’d known they could have sprung for a cruise or two while they were still mobile enough to enjoy it. It’s amazing how these things get forgotten over the years…

  30. Both Joe and Sally have valid points. As someone currently in this situation with two parents who are older (67 and 80) and not in good health, it really is a balancing act. As their child, I will do anything for them. However, sometimes it can be so draining that I feel that they should have handled their financial affairs better. Then, I sit down and really think about it. They really went above and beyond for me, providing me with all the necessities including helping me through a top-notch university. My parents helped me become what I am today at their own peril. Even though sometimes it can be really draining emotionally and physically, I remember all that they did for my sister and I. However, if I ever become a parent I would not want my child(ren) to go through what my sister and I have had to. With that said, I think parents have to do all that they can do for their children, but also save for their own retirement. Easier said than done in these hard times we live in!

  31. Remember in 1984 when this was said?:

    Elderly people who are terminally ill have a ”duty to die and get out of the way” instead of trying to prolong their lives by artificial means, Gov. Richard D. Lamm of Colorado said Tuesday.

    People who die without having life artificially extended are similar to ”leaves falling off a tree and forming humus for the other plants to grow up,” the Governor told a meeting of the Colorado Health Lawyers Association at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

    ”You’ve got a duty to die and get out of the way,” said the 48-year-old Governor. ”Let the other society, our kids, build a reasonable life.”

    My dad stays alive in order to provide retirement for my mom. When he dies his pension stops and she will have to rely on me, her son.

  32. Illness can sneak up on you.

    We didn’t realize anything was wrong with mom until she had trouble even dialing the phone in her 40s.

    Some diseases like dementia require you to step in and be assertive – hopefully there are advanced directives, because guardianship proceedings are expensive and emotionally draining.

  33. Oo, I can’t imagine having this kind of conversation with my parents for a very long time. And I’m really dreading it because of what it means (they’re ageing and the tables turning.) They are still in their 50′s, working and seemingly a lot healthier and energetic than I feel in my 30′s with two school aged kids! :)

    Whilst disaster can strike at any time and life can change in a second, I think for normal healthy people, this kind of conversation is one to have with retired parents in their late 60′s/early 70′s, before health issues come to the surface. My uncle is fit and agile at 72 and I couldn’t imagine my cousin who is the same age as me having this chat quite yet with his father.

    But in some families these types of things are discussed all the time. In fact my father in law talked to his children & partners (me) about his funeral wishes at his 60th birthday gathering a couple of years ago and handed out copies of his will!

  34. @ Susy, you and DH need to make it plain now in no uncertain terms, that she’d better plan on moving somewhere else than your house. Such folks always have a way of making you the reason for their problems and the supposed solution as well. It’s always about what you aren’t doing for them and what you owe them. They’re insecurities drive them to spend countless hours going over every tit for tat and building up lists heavily weighed in their favor by conviently forgetting all support you’ve ever provided while exaggerating or making up support they’ve provided you. Don’t fall for it. Read some books on boundries, get some help from groups dealing with support for family members of alcoholics (if that is appropriate). But most importantly don’t wait. Her telling everyone that this is her plan and you not standing tall and telling her no, is her way of guilting and manipulating you two (and the rest of the family) into doing what she wants through your silence. Keep in mind, there will likely be no level of support that you can give her that will make her happy. None. Even if you set her up in a mansion, with private drivers and servants, within a month she’d begin to nag and gripe about what you aren’t doing for her. So, determine between the two of you what, if any, support you will provide, and lay it out with her. Don’t wait until it comes to a boiling point and you blow up at some family event, because she’ll just use that to promote victim status. It isn’t easy, it isn’t fun, and it will likely hurt emotionally, but she is supposed to be an adult as well, and IMHO her *planning* on leeching off of you is not the action of an adult or of a responsible parent.

  35. One point I haven’t seen mentioned is that you don’t have to discuss all of these issues at once or even in some major family meeting as the article suggests. Hopefully you’ve got some time to discuss these issues with your parents, and rather than go in there with a potentially overwhelming list of a dozen major things to discuss, one or two at a time may be the another way to handle it. Maybe spark a conversation about wills and last wishes after dinner one day since you’re thinking of changing yours. It can open the door for conversation and possible follow up actions without making it a big deal. I prefer this method, as I’ve been able to get around to my concerns for my mother without having created a potentially charged atmosphere, and frankly this has given her the opportunity to politely change subject and let me know it’s not my business, at least at that time. What I’ve often found is when the same subject comes up a few weeks or months later, she’s more willing to discuss it and more informed in her opinion. I think we forget that many folks who get into their 70′s and 80′s really like to mull things over within the filter of their lifetime of experiences, while we’re ready to sign the papers and drop the cash because we’ve already considered and looked at the possibilities even as we’re presenting them to our parents.

  36. My dad died suddenly this year at 52. It has been a huge adjustment for me as I was 25 and my sister 20 and still has a year of college left. I feel like I’ve aged about 15 years having to take care all of the financial stuff by myself since my mom didn’t have a clue, and honestly, if she did there is a chance emotionally she wouldn’t be able to deal anyway. Here are some things you and your parents should consider, and you should NOT wait until you parents have health issues. My dad was perfectly healthy and then one day, gone.

    1) Make sure your parents set up a good life insurance policy especially if one parent brings in more money than the other. That was our saving grace.

    2) Set up a will or trust.

    3) Parents should teach each other about their finances, how they pay their bills, why they have their accounts set up the way they do, what they pay from what….this was a disaster for my mom. She had absolutely no involvement and it was very hard to train her at 52 to start keeping track of bills. Consider going to some free financial seminars to learn the basics.

    4) Have your parents keep some type of book with all your usernames, passwords, account numbers for your spouse. My father was excellent about this and we were lucky that we could log into all his accounts and track money or pay bills. Even make sure to write down any email addresses.

    5) Take an interest in how your parents run their finances in case you have to step in and make some decisions. Discuss how they would like you to handle the future, and what goals they have for each other. Ask them questions about how they pay for big stuff, housing expenses, cars, tuition, healthcare.

    6) Ask your parents if they have any liquid assets if one parent dies before they can access any retirement funds.

    These are just a few things I know would save a lot of headaches and take a lot of stress off of the surviving spouse and family. I am a lot luckier than most since my dad had a lot of stuff set up for my mom, but I couldn’t imagine what we would have done without it. She would probably be living with me or getting a second job.

  37. We have found that constant vigilance is necessary for our elderly mother’s finances (80 and 86) mainly because there are so many people trying to take advantage of the elderly. The banks, insurance agents, maintenance people, other relatives, you name it, we’ve had problems with our elderly mothers being lied to, cheated, having their concerns disregarded, sold things they don’t need, etc. It pays to get involved with their affairs as early as possible and to go with them or be present at any transactions or contract signing. It’s a really sad state of affairs and the laws don’t protect the elderly adequately against anything, not even physical abuse. We are learning many things for our own old age!

  38. Trent, Great post! I know how hard these things can be as my husband and I have approached alot of these issues with my parents. They are living with us paying down their $100,000… wait… yes I said $100,000 in credit card debt. We have gone through their long term care wishes in the event they need nursing home care. We have gone through the estate planning talk and they are now working with our estate attorney. We have gone through their retirement planning and I know they will be set as long as they pay off this debt! It been really good for them and it has brought us closer together. Now I feel like I will not have to take care of them so much when they get older. They are in their 60s now and I look forward to the years ahead instead of dreading them.

  39. You have got to put yourself aside,On the sidelines, sort of,other wise you won’t listen and they won’t talk.My mother died at home.We took care of her till the end.It was touch and go sometimes because both of us,well, “it was my way or the highway”. One of you has to make an effort to forget about yourself or “no one” will listen. I tried to do that,sometimes I was successful,other times I wasn’t.

  40. Trent, this is an excellent post on a topic not widely discussed. My parents have recently separated after 30 years of marriage and have become much more emotionally dependent on me than I have ever experienced in my life. It has led me to open my eyes about their future needs and how I might be required to step in and start taking care of them. Kudos to you for bringing up some great points. I think the sooner we start opening up and talking the better.

  41. This topic has always been particularly emotional for me. I had to start taking care of my father at age 21 when he was told he couldn’t work anymore. He’s been on Disability ever since and has no retirement, no savings, absolutely nothing. It’s been hard, but I think my father knows I’d do anything to make sure he always had a place to live. I just bought us a house to stay in, and though he puts some money down towards the mortgage and helps with a few other builds, I take care of most of the financial blow. Now we have a place of our own where we can appreciate each other’s company and he never has to worry about where he’ll end up.

  42. @ Michael – you are so right.

    Every person and situation needs to be considered on its own merits.

    While my parents gave up a lot for my childhood and education, they gave me the bill when I started my first full-time job. This included commercial rates of rent for my room backdated to when I turned 18, including time I had studied abroad when they had rented it out to lodgers (but I had to pay “storage” for my desk and bed).

    Whenever I stay with them now, I get an invoice for using their spare room (I have only stayed with them once in the past 7 years… it would be MUCH cheaper to get a hotel!).

    I feel that they have their finances well enough in hand to look after themselves. I would not discuss their finances with them in case they decide I should shell out for something else I’ve forgotten about from 20 years ago (with interest added).

    So far I have paid them money when they’ve made their demands, but feel that they have lost a child-parent relationship and gained a customer-style acquaintance instead.

    Therefore I don’t see myself getting involved if disaster strikes – sounds cold, but I have a sibling who is VERY interested in an inheritance from them, and a strong sense of entitlement to it, and I feel that they deserved to be looked after by someone so commited to their own bottom line.

    I can’t see this attitude changing even as age takes its toll – you reap what you sow.

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