Talking to your parents about money

In some families, money equals love. In others, it’s a measure of success. It’s a sensitive subject, yet it needs to be discussed. Part of supporting your loved one involves understanding his or her thinking about money. After all, something could happen where you suddenly need to step in and manage the finances.

Conversation starters. Ease into the topic rather than ask right away about account numbers and passwords.

  • Seek their wisdom. “You’ve been around the block. I’m wondering if you might share any financial lessons you’ve learned. What worked? What didn’t?” Showing respect for his or her past experience may ease your relative into talking about money generally.
  • Open with a story. “Mom, my friend’s mother had a stroke and he’s had a heck of a time trying to figure out her finances. Things happen. You never know. It occurred to me it might be wise to . . .”
  • Check out benefits together. The federal government has a free website. “Dad, I thought we might go through this together. You may be eligible for help with medications, utilities, or health care.” Working together to save money is a great way to begin a money talk.
  • “What if’s.” “Mom, we might end up in a situation where I would need to pay the bills, say, if you were in the hospital. I want to be sure to do things the way you’d want them to be done. How would you want me to handle . . . ?”
  • Share stories from the news. Perhaps there’s a new law that might be useful for your relative to know about.
  • Talk about your own plans. “I was just preparing my living trust and power of attorney documents. I realized that I don’t know where your documents are.”

In the case of dementia. The sooner you have a money talk, the better. Your loved one needs to be lucid enough to express his or her desires and to sign legal paperwork.