By Carol Church
Parents teach us and give us so much, from the moment we’re born and throughout their lives. Even long after we’ve reached adulthood, most of us still turn to them from time to time (or more often!) for help, advice, and wisdom.
As they grow older, however, adult children may begin to have some concerns about a difficult topic: their parents’ finances and care at the end of life. This conversation can be hard to start. Parents may feel defensive– worried that they are being infantilized or told what to do. Adult children may not want to intrude or hurt feelings, while also being concerned that perhaps, not all is not in order. Sibling issues can get tricky, too.
For these reasons and more, many of us may be tempted to avoid this conversation. But it’s essential to start now. Here are six reasons why experts say this conversation can’t wait:
Helps prevent the risk of financial abuse or poor financial decisions
Unfortunately, financial elder abuse happens every day, and in families where it would never be expected. It may go undetected for years. Having the money situation above board and known to all is a huge protection.
It’s also the case that some older adults have trouble with their finances eventually due to illness or cognitive impairment. Talking more in depth about the situation can make this easier to prevent and put a stop to.
Makes it less likely that families will have to go to court
When an older adult becomes incapacitated suddenly, it is sometimes necessary for adult children to take legal action simply to get access to funds to pay bills or to make healthcare decisions. Having a plan in place ahead of time means this difficult and time-consuming process won’t be necessary.
Reduces the chance of paying too much in probate fees, estate taxes, and other fees
When financial plans haven’t been made, families run the risk of paying costs they otherwise wouldn’t have had, such as probate fees due to the lack of a will or, if assets are large, the estate tax.
Lets children know how to pay for health care and funeral and estate settlement costs
At a time of great family stress, there’s nothing worse than not knowing how to pay for costs of care or for legal assistance needed to settle affairs. When children know where to locate financial information and a plan has been made, this will be avoided.
Allows children to know what end of life care is desired and not desired
No one should have to guess as to what measures a seriously ill person wants taken or not taken. This issue can cause huge rifts between siblings. Typically, when measures such as wills and estate plans are completed, end of life decisions are also finalized and discussed.
Decreases stress and opens valuable and meaningful conversations among families
Though everyone may feel awkward at first, talking about matters like inheritances, family money, the family home, and choices and desires regarding health care and living options at the end of life can actually be rewarding. It can bring families closer while making it less likely that conflict will occur later on, at tense or sorrowful times. It may even lessen the likelihood of family fractures or lifelong pain and regret. For instance, if a family business exists, it is crucial to make a plan for its disposition in advance.
For more on how to start this conversation and what to include in plans and documents, visit part 2 of Talking to Aging Parents About Money.
Fowler, K. (2016). Caring for Elderly Parents’ Estate and Finances. Retrieved from http://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/2-17-16-caring-for-elderly-parents-finances/
Goetting, M., & Schmall, V. (2017). Talking with aging parents about finances. Retrieved from http://msuextension.org/publications/FamilyFinancialManagement/MT199324HR.pdf
National Endowment for Financial Education. (2017). Prepare for Financial Changes as Family Members Ag. Retrieved from https://www.smartaboutmoney.org/Topics/Retirement-and-Aging/Aging-and-Money/Financial-Changes-as-Family-Members-Age
Merrill Edge. (n.d.) 5 tips for talking with your aging parents about their finances and health. Retrieved from https://www.merrilledge.com/article/5-tips-talking-with-your-aging-parents-about-their-finances-and-health