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Looking for the right time to talk finances with your parents?

Red SHOES Financial Wellness Program

Here’s an opportunity you might have overlooked — and how to make the most of it.

Watching your parents get older is hard and it’s easy to put off having big talks about issues like their finances and end-of-life preferences. But if you don’t have those talks, you won't know how they’d like things handled and, frankly, you might not be able to help without a lot of legal hassles.

But, just like most things in life, timing is everything and maybe it’s just never felt like the “right” time to take the plunge. Here’s one option to consider: this summer’s family vacation.

Your immediate reaction might be, “Heck no! Who wants to worry about things like that when we’re chilling out?” But guess what? On vacation you’re (hopefully!) relaxed, away from the day-to-day and getting constant reminders of how much your parents matter to you. It can actually be the perfect time to dive in. Here are three tips that can help.

Tip #1: Have a game plan, but be flexible. Put together a list of things you’d like to address, before the trip. Don’t plan to tackle everything in one conversation—especially if you’re pretty sure your parents have a lot to consider. You don't want them to be so overwhelmed they shut down before you even begin. Have siblings/spouses who will be part of the conversation? Depending on family dynamics, it can be a good idea to chat with them ahead of time to hear concerns and get their input.

Be sure your topic list covers:

  • Important documents. Do your parents have a will, a power of attorney for finances, a power of attorney for health care and an estate plan? The sad reality is that most people don’t. These documents make a huge difference when it comes to honoring your parents’ wishes on a wide variety of healthcare and financial decisions. Read our earlier post to learn more.
  • A financial account summary, plus authorized account users. Encourage your parents to create a summary, update it regularly and have an authorized user (besides them) on each account. If they use online tools, make sure someone knows where the passwords are. And if they have a safe deposit box, find out where they keep the key and make sure they’ve designated a signer and taken steps to give this person access to their box.

Tip #2: Treat your parents like adults. As our parents age, it can be easy — and often necessary — to step into a caregiver role. But unless your parents face a lot of cognitive challenges and truly need you to take over, it’s important to recognize they’re still in control and your role is to be supportive, not bossy.

Tip #3: Recognize money talks are hard for everyone. Most of us didn’t grow up in a household where people talked about money openly and comfortably. So don’t be surprised if your parents balk at the idea of sharing intimate details: they might feel it’s none of your business or they might be embarrassed if they’re struggling. Stress that you’re asking because you want to be able to meet their needs and respect their wishes in the future.

If you’ve never had a talk like this with your parents, don’t assume you’ll be able to nail everything down in one heart-to-heart. Now, go pour yourself, and your folks, a nice cool glass of iced tea and start talking.

Smart money tips brought to you by Red SHOES, Summit’s exclusive financial wellness program.