Sex, Money, & Your Parents: Conversations you never wanted to have

Annie and her two siblings have been helping their elderly parents in a growing number of ways over the past several years. Assisting with the care and upkeep of the family home, making needed grocery runs, preparing meals, attending occasional medical appointments, and in general — ensuring things are going OK.  Their mom was diagnosed with MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment) or early stages of Alzheimer’s about a year ago and their dad has had several heart-related issues over the years but remains strong, active, and on “top of his game” as he likes to say.

Annie and one of her brothers are willing and continue to step in and help in a variety of ways. The real challenge now is planning and preparing for the future. The reality of their parents’ changing needs is becoming clearer. Annie and her brother realize they do not have a clear understanding of their parents’ finances. Their dad retired from a long successful career with NASA and always talked about the importance of saving for retirement. As far as Annie and her brothers are concerned, money never seemed to be an issue, nor was it talked about. Their parents always seemed comfortable. They have a nice, modest home, sent two of three children to college, drove nice cars, went on the occasional vacation, and as far as Annie and her brother knew they seemed to be financially secure.

The challenge now is talking to their parents about the future including their finances.  Just as Annie and her brothers never wanted to talk to their parents about sex when they were growing up, their parents do not want to talk to them about finances. Both can be uncomfortable conversations to have, but it is important to understand the need to have such conversations, and the potential outcomes if they are ignored.

Just as Annie and her brother work toward understanding their parents’ finances, many adult children with aging parents are challenged to recognize the importance of the topic.  Being prepared will allow families the ability to assist with realistic future financial costs and the ability to readily step in should there be a potential emergency.

Why is this topic so difficult to talk about? 

  • Generational – certain age groups kept personal matters such as money private. It was considered good, respectful manners to keep personal information private.
  • Shame, guilt – parents may feel embarrassed about their finances. They did not budget, plan, and/or save.
  • Fear – the fear of running out of money. Having to depend on, or be a burden to, their children.
  • Once a parent always a parent – parents want to stay in control – after all, they are the parent. They watched us succeed and fail many times, and they witnessed all kinds of mistakes along the way. They are not going to sit by and watch us make mistakes with their money.
  • Mortality – The reality of nearing the end of life.
  • Scams – potential scams both from within and outside of the family.

Strategies and tips to help begin the money conversation:  

  • Accept and acknowledge the conversation may be uncomfortable.
  • Share a story of a friend/colleague who had no idea about their parents’ financial situation and the difficulties this created.
  • Timing – be conscious of when, who, and where. Do not rush; there will likely be many small conversations, each one allowing both you and the parent to get comfortable with sharing information. (A holiday meal may not be the best time.)
  • Respect – avoid criticizing your parents’ record keeping and/or explanations of their choices. Remember they have been managing things their entire life, including raising you.
  • Do not go at it alone – recognize your own skillset and the value of working with professionals.

A CFP (Certified Financial Professional), Elder Law Attorney, or Certified Aging Life Care Professional may be valuable expert resources for their helping maximize their financial futures.

Many of us did a good job avoiding our parents’ unsolicited, awkward conversations about the birds and the bees when we were growing up, but we should not avoid the tough money conversations with them now.

  • Jennifer Beach wrote this article for the December blog post for Northeast Ohio Boomer and Beyond.

About the Author:  Jennifer Beach, LSW, MA, C-SWCM writes the blog Caregiver Corner. She established Advocate for Elders in Rocky River in 2010. Jennifer has 25 years of experience in working with and advocating for older adults and their families. Jennifer is a licensed, insured Social Worker and an Advanced Aging Life Care® Professional. She has served as the Midwest Chapter President of the Aging Life Care Association and additionally served 7 years on the Board of Directors. In 2018, Jennifer was honored as the recipient of the ALCA Midwest Chapter Outstanding Member of the Year Award. Learn more at advocate4elders.com.

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