Some conversations in life truly matter. Talking about money issues is perhaps one of the most important and difficult conversations to have with aging parents. It takes courage and planning. Most of us do not want to talk or even think about our parents’ declining health, let alone financial matters, so how can we volunteer to learn, understand and help our parents as they age?
How to begin
If you find it difficult to start these conversations with your mom or dad, try talking about your own plans. Perhaps you have an RRSP account or have thought about your retirement. Let them know that you care and about how important it is to plan. Use your own life as a bridge to starting a conversation with them.
Also, consider mentioning what is happening to a friend’s family. Real-life examples are good ways to say, “Gosh, if anything bad were to happen to you, how would I manage? What would you like me to do?” Get them thinking about this as a partnership to help take care of them in case of an emergency.
Create a checklist
Use this checklist to help guide your conversations. Try to discuss your parents’ arrangements in the following matters:
- wills and powers of attorney (POAs)
- assets and liabilities
- monthly income and expenses (budgeting)
- bank accounts and passwords
- passwords to access their computer and internet accounts
- tax returns
- investments (stocks, bonds, RRSPs, RIF and TSSA)
- insurance policies
- pension plans (government and private)
- the location of safety-deposit boxes and their keys
- names and phone numbers of financial planners, accountants, banks, insurance agents, doctors and attorneys
- funding-support organizations (e.g., Veterans Affairs, provincial health programs, homecare services providers)
Keeping these items organized is key to your ability to be of value to your parents—and to maintain your sanity! If your parents will allow you to have copies of their financial documents, create a filing system that works for you. Even a simple binder with tabs and envelope sleeves will create structure and order. Do not underestimate the importance of having key documents available at all times.
Wills and powers of attorney
If you learn that your parents do not have wills or POAs in place then you’ve really got some quick work to do. These legal documents are critical. You will be shocked to learn how difficult, complicated and uncooperative the world will be without them. No bank, insurance company, seniors’ home, funeral home or doctor will work with you. Legally, you will be seen as a stranger. You will have no legal right to know about or do anything on behalf of your parents.
If you can accomplish only one task during your conversations with your parents, work with them to have their wills and POAs structured with the help of lawyers and accountants. If you think money conversations are difficult with your parents now, they will seem like nothing compared with what you will face if they have not given you copies of their wills and POAs.
Your parents should make sure you understand and feel comfortable with what these documents say. These can be complicated legal documents. If you have concerns or are confused about what you have read, be honest. Tell your parents that greater clarification is required. Talking to their lawyer is a great way to properly understand and learn their wishes. It is better to ask for an explanation today than to be overwhelmed and shocked by what you learn in the future.
Preparing for the future
- Start now: Don’t wait for a crisis before trying to understand your parents’ financial situation.
- Time: Find “quiet times” when everyone is comfortable and unrushed.
- Be respectful: Tell your parents you are interested in their well-being and future.
- Listen: Really listen, take notes and ask questions.
- Back off: If conversations get tense, let things sit for a while. Start talking again when the air has cleared.
- Ask for support from within the family: Having a knowledgeable and trusted family member to work with you and your parents will be a great asset.
- Seek professional help: You can’t properly plan without lawyers, accountants and financial planners. They are skilled and have tremendous experience.
- Get organized: Create a filing system that works for you. The more organized you are, the less stress you will have.
- This is part of the journey: As your parents’ lives change, so will their financial situations and plans. Being knowledgeable will give you peace of mind.
Mary Bart is the chair of “Losing Our Parents” an internet-based registered Canadian charity that offers education and support to people dealing with the declining health or death of a parent. www.losingourparents.com