Having ‘the talk’ with aging parents a holiday tradition

The Bakersfield Californian
November 28, 2014

A friend called a few days ago and our conversation drifted to holiday plans. As usual, she would be hosting her extended family at her house. But this year, she was dreading the gathering of her siblings and mother. She planned to have “the talk.”

Her widowed mother is in failing health and her doctors advise that she should no longer live alone in her Bakersfield house. Her mother is resisting the suggestion that she move into the independent-living units of a local retirement community. With her brothers and sisters invited to dinner, my friend is planning a “meeting of the minds” to talk her mother into moving.

I tried to be reassuring. These talks are often awkward. I related the story of a financial planning client, who last year fretted over having “the talk” with her parents, when her siblings convened to celebrate the holidays.

My client’s father had advanced Parkinson’s disease and her aging mother could no longer care for him at home. Doctors recommended he should live in a skilled nursing facility. My client practiced daily how she would broach the subject with her father. Her mother was on board. My client sought the help of her brothers and sister.

As it turned out, her father was open to the idea. He was grateful my client had consulted with a financial planner and determined how to structure the parents’ income and retirement investments to cover the skilled nursing costs, as well as support his wife, who would live independently.

Not all family stories have this kind of positive outcome. But it is common to use holiday gatherings to discuss the changing needs of aging parents. Developing a plan requires patience and understanding.

It’s a process. Developing an investment plan and retirement strategy is a “process” that evolves as economic and life situations change. “The talk” should be a starting point, rather than a one-time meeting to make life-changing decisions. Plan to meet often to discuss options and make adjustments.

They are your parents. They are not children. They have been making decisions for a lifetime. They do not intend to stop. You can make suggestions and hope they will agree. But in the end, unless they are found “incompetent,” they are in the financial driver’s seat. Show respect. Listen.

Give a “heads up.” The talk should be a thoughtful discussion. No one wants to be ambushed. Let other family members, including your parents, know you want to begin discussing your parents’ financial future and living situation.

Ask your parents. Determine what help, if any, they may need now and how that help can be provided. Likely as your parents age, the level of help — whether it is paying bills, or financing living expenses — will expand. So begin early with the easy stuff and build trust in the arrangement.

Do some investigating. Enter a discussion with financial and living options for your parents to consider. Seeking advice from a financial planner and senior consultant can be helpful. Understand the resources that exist in your community.

Share your own financial plans. A discussion opener can be sharing your financial plans, including the existence of wills and trusts, with your parents. Share your friends’ stories. This often will open your parents up to discussing theirs. The earlier you begin sharing information — preferably while parents are still healthy and living independently — the better the future for all will be.

The same concepts used by couples to develop their investment strategies and manage their retirements should be incorporated into helping aging parents plan their futures.