How to Make Sure Your Elderly Parent is on Stable Financial Footing 

2 How to Make Sure Your Elderly Parent is on Stable Financial Footing Header Image“I knew what she was up to,” our client Nancy says with a wicked grin, “And I told her, ‘Sweetheart, you should know it by the wrinkles on my face: I wasn’t born yesterday!’” Nancy was laughing with her Vitucci advisor about why she invited her daughter, Mary, to her financial planning meetings. Mary had been trying to gently find out whether her widowed mom was doing okay with money, and she broached the subject by mentioning a recent foray into estate planning – and the importance of designating responsibility in the event of incapacity. Being Mary’s mom (and a sharp card player at that) Nancy immediately guessed why Mary had started this particular conversation, and after cracking a few jokes she suggested Mary start coming with her to our office. It was a good-natured reaction to a gentle inquiry, and it has ended up being a positive step for both Nancy and Mary.

But sometimes the idea of bringing up an elderly parent’s finances can be a little more complicated.

You might be worried about your parents, but unsure of how to talk about sensitive issues like aging, health, or decline. You may also have some pretty strong feelings about these subjects yourself!

However, for many adult children, this is an important conversation to have.

While no two families are alike, there are certain steps you can consider as you navigate these subjects – read on for some of our experiences and insights in helping families pass the torch of financial responsibility.

Timing the conversation

 You might have considered bringing up finances during a time of family gathering – holidays or birthdays are commonly considered reasonable choices.

We suggest you consider a quieter time of year instead.

Not only do holidays tend to be heavily scheduled and highly social; depending on the health of your parent or parents, they can also be exhausting. This may not bode well for a talk about weighty issues like aging and end-of-life planning.

That’s why, if you can make time when there’s less going on, it might be worth it. It could even make sense to make a special trip to see your parents, if they live far away. This will give you more time to talk – and to even take breaks from the conversation for a day or two if needed.

Keep it specific – and brief

Before you address your parents, consider your specific concerns. There’s a lot of emotion involved in these discussions, so the more you can focus on a few important specifics, the more room you’ll have to collaborate on productive solutions.

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Perhaps your widowed mom has a tendency to be a little too trusting with people who call on the phone, or maybe your normally meticulous elderly parents are having some trouble managing the details.

Whatever your key concerns, lead with those, and share them with compassion. It might still be difficult to bring it up, but sometimes parents are relieved that their children have noticed a growing problem and are willing to step in to help.

Of course, others might feel defensive and afraid.

We’ve seen a range of emotional responses to these conversations, and that’s okay. By keeping it specific, compassionate, and brief, you’ll be able to give your parent or parents time to consider your thoughts without the pressure of a lengthy discussion or a laundry list of worries.

Focus on providing support

It can be helpful to emphasize that you’d like to provide support, as opposed to solving the problem or controlling the situation.

Aging can be extremely frightening and disheartening, and those difficult feelings can come out in many ways. One of the major emotional responses to aging that we’ve seen in our practice is a feeling of helplessness, or the sense that one is losing control.

This can make the elderly very focused on retaining control wherever possible. Don’t try to fight this: as one of our client’s parents liked to say (quite often), “Stop talking to me like that, I am still your mother!”

Your parents are adults, and it’s important to recognize and even appreciate their desire to maintain authority over their own lives. Sometimes the best you can do is to let them know that you just want to offer support and a helping hand.

If possible, give some examples of things you could do to pitch in. Maybe you could help your parents open and sort the bills once a month, or do the math on balancing the checkbook. Perhaps they’d be willing to let you log in and review bank accounts online, or join their financial planning meetings.

Special concerns: Dealing with dementia

One of the scariest issues for children to think about can be dementia. You may have heard horror stories of undiagnosed dementia wreaking havoc on a parent’s finances, until finally adult children are forced to beg help from doctors, hire a lawyer, and get a court order for guardianship or financial power 2 How to Make Sure Your Elderly Parent is on Stable Financial Footing Info Imageof attorney.

Memory and cognitive decline aside, dementia can be terrifying precisely because it’s hard for the afflicted person to see (or want to see) what’s happening.

Children are left to gently probe from the outside to get a read on their parents’ cognitive health – which can also be tough.

Of course, there are certain red flags that can indicate a burgeoning problem: if your parent has stacks of unopened mail, is receiving calls from creditors, or is having difficulty with basic daily functions like getting around, housekeeping, or meal preparation, these could be signs of impairment.

But dementia and the other risks of aging aren’t always so obvious. That’s why, if possible, these are conversations you might want to try having ahead of time.

About 14% of seniors over age 70 will likely be affected by dementia, so it’s not an irrelevant subject to raise. How would your parents want things to go should the worst happen? How can you help ensure that they remain protected and cared for?

If you are already concerned about possible dementia or Alzheimer’s, consider reaching out to your parent’s doctor as a first step. You might need to accompany your parent to an appointment to raise concerns and ask about possible tests. It can be a difficult diagnosis, so be aware that this might be a lengthier process.

For additional help with the particulars of your situation, you could also consider speaking to a qualified advisor on your own or a specialist in elder law and care. This could help you get an understanding of your local laws and some of the basic steps you and your parents can take to secure their finances.

Remember yourself

No matter what your parent’s health status, just the prospect of incapacity or decline can be as hard on children as it is on parents. That’s part of what makes these conversations so difficult to start.

Don’t forget to go easy on yourself. It’s okay to feel worried, frightened, even angry. The key is to seek out not just caring and qualified advice where needed, but moral support as well.

After all, even if you’re just balancing a checkbook, the emotional work involved in helping care for elderly parents can go a lot deeper.

What else should you look out for?

 Financial risks are one component of a complex puzzle of end-of-life financial planning. You can learn more about the various risk factors and planning strategies facing the elderly with our free guide, How to Help Your Parents Navigate the Twilight Years.

Download your free copy today!

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Let Us Help!

We can discuss this topic and more at a complimentary appointment. As a bay area retirement planning coaches, we can give you a review and make suggestions based on your retirement objectives.

Important Disclosures

& Associates Insurance Services or United Planners Financial Services (United Planners). The opinions voiced in this article are for general information only. They are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual and do not constitute an endorsement by United Planners.

To determine which investments may be appropriate for you, consult with your financial professional. Please remember that investment decisions should be based on an individual’s goals, time horizon, and tolerance for risk. Neither diversification nor asset allocation can ensure a profit or prevention of loss in times of declining values. United Planners does not render tax advice.

Securities and advisory services offered through United Planners Financial Services, member FINRA, SIPC. Pasquale Vitucci, CA Insurance Lic. # 0758212, is an Endorsed Agent of Vitucci & Associates Insurance Services CA Insurance Lic. # 0I06319. Vitucci & Associates Insurance Services and United Planners are separate and unrelated companies.

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Further Reading

Incidence of dementia: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2705925/

Symptoms of dementia: https://www.healthline.com/health/dementia/early-warning-signs#symptoms