The Talk – Five Financial Conversation Tips For Aging Parents
We recently celebrated my dad’s 85th birthday. My mom will turn 80 in January. They live in their own home and are managing their day to day activities and financial affairs with admirable fervor and zest. I see them every few months and we talk regularly on the phone. They acknowledge things are changing.
As a daughter, a CFP professional and financial life strategist, I know the “talk” is not a one and done. It also can’t start with a discussion about dollars. The financial talk needs to bloom from cultivating the soil of self-awareness, trust, respect and team work. It is healthy monetary mindsets and the willingness to make constant course corrections that will ease the financial transition into and through elderhood.
1. Recognize and Wrestle with your own emotions.
Talking about aging and money is emotionally charged. Reflect on how you feel about having these conversations. Understanding that all emotions are valid, and often – negative. It is ok to be nervous, angry, sad, frustrated.
I had to acknowledge emotions of warranted concern and my perceived inadequacies. My dad is hard-working engineer, entrepreneur, and stock analysis aficionado. He still actively trades his portfolio and assesses real estate deals. While I am a trained financial professional and have expertise in many areas, I am still his “little girl”, and I wrestle with “do I know enough?” While his mind is still sharp, macular degeneration clouds his vision and I have concerns about computer screens and how he is decides to place trades. These emotions come into play when we sit down to talk about how he and my mom want to handle their finances moving forward.
2. Find the Space and cover it with Grace
Build their financial efficacy. Many times, shame and guilt around past financial decisions can shut down conversations. Find areas of their financial life that you can build on to open up the discussions. “You did a great job of ________, and moving forward I want to hear what is important to you in taking care of yourself and how I can help”.
I asked my parents how they handled financial challenges in their past and what they learned from them. This opened up the opportunity to talk about changes they will be facing in the near future with managing accounts, cash flow, and their concerns. My dad financially walked alongside my aging aunt (who has passed away four years ago) and we have talked about what went well and what they want to do differently
3. Create the Environment of support, not control
After some time of building trust, you will be seen as an advocate. They need to make decisions. Our job is to help unpack the reasonable choices.
My mom and I were recently talking about my Uber experience. I was expounding on how easy it was and how much I enjoyed being chauffeured around. This opened up the conversation about “giving up the car keys”, and my willingness to help them explore new ways of getting around town.
We all want autonomy – the freedom to direct our own destiny. Recognizing that as our parents age, their autonomous world becomes smaller, and the more we can help them find things that are still within their control, the better they will feel.
When my aunt was in assisted living and in the throes of dementia, she maintained that she wanted to pay for meals when I came to visit. Of course, she was in an assisted living facility and she never got a bill at the end of a meal. I encouraged her to bring her purse (which had a few dollars in it) with her. We enjoyed our time together and as the plates were removed, I would say “thank you for lunch”. It affirmed in her head that she was in charge!
4. Alliances not alienation
What team members do you want to put in place? Are there other family members that need to be involved? Are there professionals that your parents have worked with that you need to get to know? You will have different skill sets and strengths, but find common ground that you can build on. Are there bridges that need to be rebuilt? Is there forgiveness that needs to be sought or extended?
It is hard work to support family members in their aging process in financial integrity, but the relational wealth and the dignity that will be brought out is more than worth it.