Your Aging Parents and Their Finances

Some of you who read the title of this post can already feel the sweat breaking out on your forehead; for many of us, the thought of asking our parents about their finances is a daunting prospect. After all, these are the people who raised us, who guided us into adulthood; what gives us the right to think we need to know about their financial plans? We also fear that they might think we’re just trying to see how much we’ll get upon their demise, or, even worse, that we’re trying to get control of their finances right now.

Certainly, discussing financial matters with aging parents can make for some tense moments. On the other hand, it’s important for those who might be in the position of needing to settle their parents’ estate to have enough information to proceed efficiently and in accordance with the parents’ wishes.

If you are facing “the talk” with one or both older parents, clearly state up front that they are loved, valued, and respected. Thus, it is vital that their wishes be honored, including their intentions for their estate. While none of us want to face the loss of one or both parents, it is also a fact that the more we know in advance about our parents’ desired final arrangements, the smoother the process will go, and the lower the stress level will be, especially in a time when emotions will already be running high.

Here are the main things you need to know:

  • Whether there is a will or a trust, and if so, where the documents are kept;
  • Whether there are any advance medical directives in place, and if so, where the documents are kept;
  • Who the parents’ principal legal, financial, health, and other advisors are, along with their contact information;
  • The location of any safe deposit boxes, as well as the keys to the boxes;
  • Amount and beneficiaries of all life insurance policies, as well as the names of the issuing companies and the locations of the policy documents.

Depending on the specific situation, you might want to ask a few additional questions:

  • Are your beneficiary designations up to date? Have there been any changes in your or your children’s marital, health, or other situations that have not been taken into consideration? Have any grandchildren come into the family that you want to include in these documents?
  • Where are your retirement accounts, checking accounts, savings accounts, or other investment accounts? Whom should be called in order to get information about these accounts? If any of these accounts have beneficiaries designated, are the designations up to date?
  •  Do you have a financial and/or medical power of attorney? If you do, who have you designated as your agent?
  • Where are your tax files, and who prepares your taxes?

A great online resource for adult children who are wondering how to talk to their aging parents about their finances is available at 4070talk.com. The name comes from the point in life that many experts believe is the optimal time to have “the talk”: when you are 40 and your parents are 70. The website has some great, research-based tips and ideas to help you become better informed and also to prepare you to speak meaningfully and effectively with your aging parents.

Another resource that we recommend is Tim Prosch’s book, The Other Talk: A Guide to Talking with Your Adult Children about the Rest of Your Life. Tim spoke to our clients in 2014 and we still give his book to our clients. In some cases, the parents use the book to facilitate a conversation with their adult children. And in other cases, the adult children use the book as a vehicle to begin a conversation with their parents. You can read three blogs or articles on this topic below on our website:

And let us know how “the talk” went or if we can be a resource to help facilitate it.

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