How to Talk with Your Parents About Their Money
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Learn how you can talk to your parents about money, their retirement, and beyond with less stress!
Helping Your Parents Prepare for Retirement and Beyond
We talk about how to discuss money as a couple and make those conversations less stressful. And I hope you two feel more relaxed when you’re talking about your goals and finances.
I also know that just because you two can talk about money, doesn’t mean that you’re cool with those money chats with everyone.
Especially when it comes to your parents.
My mom is getting closer to retirement I want to make sure that she’s in a good spot. Healthwise things look alright, but I also know that’s not given.
We’ve other relatives have some significant health issues, including dementia and injury and it does make us wonder, how prepared are we to make sure our parents are taken care of?
It’s easy to put it off, but do we really want to?
So how do you start those conversations? How do you prepare for when you need to step in and help out your parents?
Journalist and personal finance author Cameron Huddleston had to deal with it firsthand when helping her mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
Her latest book is Mom and Dad: We Need to Talk is a fantastic guide on how to come together as a family now so down the line, everyone is on the same page.
So I’m we have her on today.
We also have financial advisor Jonah Kaufman sharing his take as he’s had to help families navigate through these delicate conversations.
In this episode we’ll discuss:
- Why you don’t want to wait to talk to your parents about money
- Key conversations you should have and how to get started with them
- Crucial documents that will protect your parents and their wishes
Let’s get started!
Resources for Parents and Retirement
Here are some fantastic resources to help you two get more comfortable talking about retirement and more with your parents.
- Mom and Dad: We Need to Talk
- Rock Retirement – Roger has written an incredible book that breaks down how you can plan and save not just for retirement, but a life you love now!
- Free 401(k) Analysis: blooom
- Best Budget and Money Apps: Personal Capital, Tiller, Mint
- Automatic Saving: Qapital
- Jumpstart Your Marriage and Your Money
Thank You to Our Sponsor Coastal!
Support for this podcast comes from Coastal Credit Union! If you’re living in the Raleigh Durham area and looking to bank better, come check out Coastal today.
If you want to be better prepared financially, please consider Coastal’s Retirement Planning Program!
Talking About Money with Parents for the First Time
Elle Martinez: How did you come across or how did you start that conversation or knew you needed to start having that conversation with your mom?
Cameron Huddleston: So I did it in phases. And the first time I talked to my mom about anything financial, I had just moved back from Washington DC to my home state of Kentucky.
I was writing for Kiplinger's personal finance at the time, had written some articles about long-term care.
And so I said to my mom, knowing that she lived by herself and that if she needed long-term care that having insurance would help her.
So I said, mom, I think it would be great if you checked into getting a long-term care insurance policy.
I mean, the, I didn't sugarcoat it or anything just straight up said, mom, I think you should look into this.
And she did. She met with an insurance agent and unfortunately, because of a pre-existing health conditions, she had, she was considered too high risk and she could not get coverage.
This is where I dropped the ball. This is where I should have said. ‘All right, mom. You can't get long-term care insurance coverage.
Let's look at your finances and figure out how we can pay for that care. If you ever need it, let's figure out what sort of care you would want. But I didn't even think about it.'
Like I look back at that and I'm thinking, boy, I just, I blew it. I dropped the ball big time there.
And of course, as fate would have it, my mother, a couple of years later started showing signs of memory loss.
Don't Wait to Talk with Your Parents
Cameron Huddleston: This is why these conversations have to happen sooner rather than later, because when your parents are healthy, you can be talking about things, hypothetically.
Elle Martinez: Yes.
Cameron Huddleston If this happens, what if, when my mother started showing signs that she was having trouble remembering things, if I wanted to have that financial conversation, then.
I would have to make it clear why I was wanting to have that conversation. I would have to be the one to say, mom, I think you're having trouble remembering things.
We need to start talking right now about your finances. And I didn't want to have to be that person. I really did not want to have to be the one to tell my mom that I thought she was losing her memory.
Not that anyone else was going to step in and do it, but I didn't want to have to do it.
Getting Your Parent's Doctor on Board
Cameron Huddleston: What I actually did is I reached out to her, um, her doctor. And said, you know, please, the next time my mom comes in, could you talk to her about getting tested for Alzheimer's? And he was wonderful. He did. She went in, she was tested and the first neurologist she met with actually came back and said, well, I think you're okay.
And I thought, no, you are wrong. You are wrong, wrong, wrong. And so I knew I couldn't wait any longer at that point. And I said to my mom, Hey mom, I think we need to go meet with an attorney. To update all of your legal documents. And this, I really think can be a good way to start these conversations.
Sometimes something as simple as long-term care insurance or talking about estate planning documents, because you're not getting into the nitty gritty of their finances. You're just talking about planning being prepared. And so we met with the attorney and she was still, my mother was still competent enough to sign those documents.
Her will. Power of attorney, which gave both me and my sister, the right to step in and manage her finances if she was ever no longer able to. And also healthcare power of attorney and a living will, these documents are so important. And if you are no longer competent, You can not sign them. And, and I think if anything, you would have to find out if your parents had these documents, you cannot wait until there's a health issue until they have dementia.
And they really can't remember things. They can't make financial decisions anymore. And so that meeting with the attorney also opened the door to other conversations. The attorney said, you know, you need to go to your mother's bank and sit down together and get. Me on her account as the representative payee.
So that really set things in motion for me getting involved with my mom's finances, because I really did start to have to have to step in and help her from that point on she, is she still alive? She's been in assisted living for six years now. It was, it's been 10 years since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and she was only 65.
I was 35 at the time. Wow.
Elle Martinez: So, I mean, you hit a lot of things. I think. Couples are going through you say you dropped the ball, but I was reading the book and I so like found myself in the same situation.
You're busy with kids. You're busy with your career and your mom is healthy. So you're like, I can put this off.
I can do this, but also in your book. I, I realize even more. So how important in that timing, at least you got it in time because you had an example of someone whose parent wasn't able to get those documents on Doug.
Cameron Huddleston: Yes.
Elle Martinez: And he had to struggle to take care of his. He was like fighting two battles, you know, taking care of his dad and then having get the legal ability to take care of his dad.
Cameron Huddleston: Doug story is the perfect example. Of a worst case scenario. What happens when you don't have these conversations? Soon enough, his father lived in Colorado. Doug lives still lives in Hawaii, so he wasn't seeing his dad. Often. His father was a widower and his father had, um, told Doug and his father that he was no longer going to be communicating with him.
By email that he was going to write letters. Well, that raised a red flag for Doug and his brother. So they went and visited him and started to see that he was having signs with his memory. And Doug said at the time to his dad, you know, dad, do you need help with anything? You know, should we, you know, do you have power of attorney and his dad, you know, kind of dismissed.
Doug's attempts to start the conversation. And rather than push Doug stepped back. And then within a couple of years, middle of the night, Doug gets a call that his dad is in the emergency room. He was getting surgery. He ended up in a nursing home for rehab, and Doug went to Colorado again to help with his father and his father had bills that needed to be paid, but Doug could not pay them.
Could not access his father's bank account because his father had never named him power of attorney. And so what he had to do is go through the core process of being named what is called a conservator. It took nine months. He had to go through all these interviews, background checks. He spent $10,000 on hiring attorney for himself.
His dad, because basically he was putting his dad on trial to prove that he was incompetent and had to get a neuropsychiatrist to evaluate his dad.
He was also spending money, his own money, paying his dad's bills because he didn't have access to his dad's account. Once he was named conservator, he was able to access his dad's account, reimburse himself.
But you know, most people aren't going to have $10,000 sitting around for legal fees. They're not going to have.
A total of $25,000 that Doug spent on the legal fees, travel back and forth to see his dad to help his dad and to pay his bills. People don't have that sort of money sitting around for these sorts of emergencies.
Doug was fortunate. He did because he's super financially savvy. Um, but if he had only pushed a little bit harder and he told me this, he's like, I looked back and I should have insisted.
When I saw them, my dad was starting to have problems that he get all those documents signed, get them drafted, get them signed.
Then he wouldn't have had to go through that process, a very expensive lengthy process. And then every year after that, Doug had to file a report with the court system, letting them know how he spent his dad's money.
It's just, it's tedious. It is emotionally draining and it's just something that no family should have to go through.
Elle Martinez: Yeah, on top of everything that you're dealing with to try to set up your parents and take care of them at that's that's what stuck out at me. You had pointed out that you had like made it, I guess, with that deadline before she started deteriorating with her memory, because it could have been totally different outcome.
Um, and so I think this is very important as uncomfortable as it seems upfront, really the, the loving thing is to have these conversations and.
You actually not only talk about why we need to have it. I love how you get into how to start these conversations, because I feel like that is a big hurdle and people feel like they have to jump in into the immediate financial like mom, dad, do you have this?
Do you have that? You gave 10 suggestions. Do you mind, I'd like to kind of go over with you. I love the story idea. That you were saying about, you know, getting them to talk about finances and opening up.
Cameron Huddleston: I think the story is the easiest way to start these conversations because anyone who's listening to this podcast can go to their parents and say, Hey mom, dad, I just heard this podcast.
And this woman was talking about her mother. Who had Alzheimer's and she had to make sure, sure that her mother had all the legal documents in place, so she could step in and help her with her finances as her memory declined. I want to make sure that we have everything in place in case I ever need to help you.
There are so many stories out there. You probably have a friend at work maybe who had to stop working to care for a parent. Uh, you know, a colleague whose father passed away without a will, was in a second marriage. The family's fighting over who gets, what, if you don't know someone, there's probably an article.
You've read something you've heard on the radio. And if you have to it's okay to make up a story. I don't want you to feel like you're being underhanded by lying to your parents. Just think of it as opening the door to a very important conversation.
Elle Martinez: Yeah. And I like the, what if scenario that you presented?
Like what if, um, and of course, you know, if they pick up your book, they have an automatic built-in conversation starter
Cameron Huddleston: because,
Elle Martinez: Hey, I just reading this book, I was getting ready. What do you think about this? You know, getting their opinions, but you, you brought up a lot of great things and there's no way we can cover.
Everything in this podcast interview, but I did want to also highlight a different, um, approach or a sideways approach was if you have siblings, like kind of include them, kind of
Cameron Huddleston: practice with them, how are you going to approach that?
Elle Martinez: How would you describe that technique?
Cameron Huddleston: Well, I think it's so important.
If you have siblings to talk to them, even before you start talking to your parents, because you all need to get on the same page, hopefully. All of you have your parent's best interest at heart, but you might have different ideas about. How you should approach these conversations. You might have different ideas about what roles you're going to play as your parents age.
And so sitting down and talking to them before you even talked to mom and dad. So you can all have this collective approach. And talking to them so that everyone away is aware of what the other person is doing, what the other person is thinking. You can figure out who's going to start the conversation or whether you're all going to do it together.
And even if it's just one person having the conversation, that person, whether it's you or your brother or your sister needs to keep the other siblings in the loop, just so that there there's no resentment. So that there's no, um, suspicion, especially if one parent one child is managing the parent's money so that they don't think that they're, you know, handling it the wrong way.
And you know, the important thing here is that everyone agrees because I interviewed someone from my book who has two brothers and as their father was declining in health, they didn't have any conversations about. What was going to happen to mom? Once dad was no longer there, where was she going to live?
And then after their father passed away, suddenly everyone was panicking. Oh my gosh, what do we do about mom? One brother. Why did mom to stay in their childhood home? My friend who I interviewed one thought it was best for mom to move to a retirement community. The other brother wanted the mom to new, closer to him.
And so they were arguing. And if they had simply had conversations. When they saw the writing was on the wall, they knew their father's health was not good. If they had had conversations before they were put into this, what are we going to do? Now? Dad's gone. We have to help mom. Then there wouldn't have been fighting and better decisions would have been made because the mom ended up moving closer to the sons.
She's in a house she can't take care of. And now she's come back to her daughter, my friend, and has said, I should have listened to you. I should have moved into the retirement community. So, you know, having these conversations with your siblings also sooner, rather than later, is going to make things easier.
Then you talk to them, you create a plan for talking to your parents. You talk to the parents and hopefully. You work on a plan together. And when I say a plan, I don't just mean getting your parents' financial information. I mean, a plan for care. If they need care, a plan for where they're going to live as they age, and yes, these, these topics are difficult, but if you approach it.
Letting your parents know that you are concerned about them, their wellbeing. You're not having this conversation to find out how much money you're going to get, you know, and your inheritance or anything like that. Approach it from a very loving way. Most likely your parents will realize that you're not trying to be nosy, that you're looking out for them.
Of course, they're going to be some parents who were going to push back and say no way, never
Elle Martinez: or you know, expectations. But I also, I liked the approach of talking with your siblings first, because I actually think some parents are reluctant because they think that's going to be a wedge talking about finances, talking about planning.
But if they see that their kids are United. On, at least the goal, you know, and they're willing to work in, come up with a solution. I think it just makes it a less stressful experience for the whole family. And
Cameron Huddleston: yeah. Yes. I agree. And especially, oftentimes parents are reluctant to talk about their kids were told to talk to their kids about things like their will.
Because sometimes they don't necessarily divide things up evenly and they don't want to get into those arguments with their kids. They don't want their kids to be mad and they figure, you know what, I'm just going to let them sort it out when I die, I'm not going to have to deal with it. And this is true.
I've had, I've had a state planning attorneys tell me this. And so if you can eat, like you said, if you go in with that United front and all of you were saying, mom and dad, We don't really care what's in your well, we just want to make sure you have one. We want to make sure you spell out your wishes, even if you wish for one of us to get more than the other, it doesn't matter to us.
And maybe deep down, it does matter to you, but you and your siblings have to agree that when you talk to your parents, this is the message you're going to have. And so that might release some stress from your parents and make them a little bit more willing. Like you said, I'm knowing that all of you are.
Coming together to talk to them out of concern for them.
Elle Martinez: Yeah, and all that will drama can get discussed later on, but having the important thing, especially, you know, a lot of families are dealing with this because we're living longer, but there's so many problems with, um, healthcare, like affordability and options.
And you never want to make those decisions when you're in the thick of it. Cause with the stress, it feels like you're scrambling versus let's look, see what mom and dad are, you know, mom or dad want. For their future, how do they want to be taken care of? And yes, uh, when they're healthy, you kind of want to put it off because you have a full plate already with kids and career and everything, but this is definitely one conversation.
To start and continue
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When we wrap up, I definitely want to share a conversation I had with Jonah Kaufman. He's a financial advisor at Coastal's wealth management team. It's important because when we're talking with our parents, we definitely want to talk about the high level stuff, their goals, what are their plans and wishes, but then what documents do we need to have to make sure that their wishes are carried out?
Joan and I talked about this and also how to prepare for these conversations with your parents as well. What are some key topics that we should discuss with our parents to make sure that they're properly taken care of during their later years?
Cameron Huddleston: Yeah, that's a great question. And one that comes up quite often, I typically tell the folks that are thinking, or the members I work with that are thinking about.
Aging parents or just their parents' needs in general is one is to make sure that they understand their parents, proper estate planning documents. Now, in most cases, everyone should have a simple will, a power of attorney. That's kind of a general power of attorney. A healthcare specific power of attorney, a living will in a hiphop authorization.
Now I called these the big five and they will help out with just some of the importance they may name, you know, should I be, you know, in a position that I'm on life support with the living? Well, for instance, as grim as that may sound is, comes up and the truth is, you know, you, your parents with a living will or able to state.
Their wishes at that particular point, should they come upon it? So it will help the surviving family members, no one, you know, what would mom or dad have thought that too, if there isn't a decision who gets to make that decision and that's an important. Thing to have an order. In addition to that, the powers of attorney, you know, certainly they can be very in Portland just to help take care of life events, whether it's, you know, whether you're home or abroad, more importantly, the, you know, Things like your beneficiaries on your IRAs, 401k is also assigning a pod or Tod through your bank on your checking or savings account is just smart planning, but revisiting these every few years, just to make sure that everything is in good order.
And it may not be that we want to change who our beneficiaries are. But maybe our beneficiaries address or phone number changed. So making sure that info is up to date. And lastly, it's having an action plan. I tell people all the time that the conversation never takes place because sometimes, um, we're too much, we're having too much fun doing other things we enjoy with our family members, but all things being equal, you know, sitting down with mom and dad and saying, you know, What happens in the event of X?
Do you have long-term care if you do, where's the policy and how do I read it? Or in the event of your passing, what steps do you want? And going over the documents, they all kind of work together to make sure that you touch a lot of the important basis, you know, objectives. While our family members are living are important and after they've passed are equally as important and having kind of a regular check-in to make sure mom and dad's estate planning documents are up to date as well as other important places on where you might find information, whether that'd be their will or whether that be, you know, just again, things like insurance policies are very key to, to discuss with her.
Elle Martinez: Yeah. That's I think that's important. Um, Actually also knowing where the documents, I kind of forgot about that too, but having a place or at least having a copy of some of those documents that way should something happen. You have that readily available, especially during something that's very emotional.
If they're injured, if they're dealing with a serious condition, like Alzheimer's dementia, God forbid. If they pass away having everything. Where you can find it easily. It makes a difficult process, much easier.
Cameron Huddleston: And as we're seeing the, the population, um, rural living longer, and it's an important thing to consider, how are you going to take care of the, um, the.
Aging in and of itself. And so having a strategy for that is also a good way to make sure that you work at some of these documents on a recurring basis. And certainly, you know, these types of questions come up, you know, when you sit with a financial planner, but generally speaking, these types of questions are going to come up when you sit with a financial advisor, but are also going to come up just in general.
When you know, you start to review your own documents and think about. All right. I'm a parent now, or some other life event takes place. Maybe that's a good time as well for you to say, Hey mom or dad, you know, I just updated my will or my estate planning documents. Can we talk about yours?
Elle Martinez: I think that's smart.
I know some people were like, Oh no, they think I'm going after their money. And it's not really, that's the case. It's a matter of. Let's, you know, we want their retirement, their later years to be with dignity and also their wishes respected. And if we don't have these conversations, there's no way we can't read their minds.
Cameron Huddleston: Yeah. I mean, most people aren't versed in, you know, what takes place if you pass without a will and what laws of intestine CR, and other things like that. So, you know, understanding that, you know, there might be a good conversation to be had because the important conversations never took place for somebody else.
You know, there's also a telltale sign as to when you should maybe have that conversation.
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This episode was originally released in August 2019. Show notes have been updated in October 2022.