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How to talk to aging parents about their finances.

As your parents head into their golden years, there are many great gifts you can offer them, one of the most important ones being: Assuring them you can help fulfill their wishes for health care and independence. Unfortunately, the first and most important step — starting the conversation — isn’t always easy. By being proactive and starting sooner rather than later, though, you’re more likely to put a solid plan in place so you can avoid making tough decisions during a crisis.

Tips for starting the conversation.

While it can be challenging, a discussion about money is often the central point from which many caregiving decisions are made. Commerce Trust Company Client Care Specialist Constance Moore, MA, CSA, CDP, CMC, explains that it can be difficult for older parents to discuss their finances with family members. She has even coined the term HIPP to describe previous generations, which stands for hard-working, independent, proud and private.

Moore recommends choosing a time and place when everyone is calm and comfortable, enlisting siblings and even designating a spokesperson. “The key is to keep the focus on the parents while treating them with respect,” she explains. “For example, you can start by saying, ‘We’re not sure how you want us to handle things when you might need us to,’ or something as open-ended as ‘what are your plans for retirement?’”

Often, a visit from an out-of-town adult child can trigger a conversation out of love and concern, especially if there are noticeable changes in parents’ behavior or appearance. Commerce Bank Certified Financial Planner Rob Whitney, CFP®, emphasizes that the goal is to make progress one conversation at a time. “It’s not a one and done, it’s a process,” he explains. “Let parents know you’re available to help when they need it and you just want to make sure they know they’ll be taken care of.”

What to talk about.
One of the most important topics to discuss is whether or not they have an estate plan that includes the following:
  • A will
  • A living will
  • A power of attorney for healthcare decisions
  • A power of attorney for property and financial decisions
You may also want to discuss their current financial situation and healthcare wishes. For example, do they plan to stay in their current home? How will they manage planned and unplanned medical expenses? Do they need help budgeting or managing finances?

After the conversation: taking action.
Once you’ve gathered information, make a list of actionable next steps to take, such as creating or updating any legal documents. Moore recommends checking in with the people selected to be trustees and powers of attorney to confirm that they understand their role, and are able and willing to do it.

This checklist highlights important information you may need to access in case you have to make decisions on your parents’ behalf:
  • Know where to locate important documents like insurance policies, property deeds, marriage and birth certificates and tax returns
  • Create a list of financial accounts, locations and passwords
  • Know how to access any safe deposit boxes
  • Create a list of important contacts including doctors, financial advisors, attorneys, insurance agents and mortgage contacts
  • Know where to access health insurance information, current medication information and medical history. Encourage parents to sign a HIPPA release so doctors can share medical information with family members.

Other considerations.

If parents need help managing their finances, consider a strategy to ensure that bills are paid on time. For example, can you help them set up automatic bill payments or add yourself as an authorized user on accounts? Review caregiving options including what income is available to pay for it.

“Many families find it helpful to bring in a third party such as a financial planner or long-term-care advocate, who can provide objective, professional advice and help align resources and needs,” explains Whitney.

Your parents may also have goals and wishes regarding their time and assets. For example, do they want to start gifting to kids and grandkids, or begin handing down family heirlooms while they’re still alive? Do they want to budget for experiences like a bucket list vacation with extended family members?

For additional information, checklists and resources, Commerce Trust Company, a division of Commerce Bank, has published the following guides to help you navigate the path of family caregiving:

When to have the conversation with an aging parent

Family caregiving guide

Opening the lines of communication early and having a plan in place can provide family members with peace of mind, knowing that actions and decisions have been carefully thought out in advance. For more information, visit Commerce Trust Company to connect with a member of our trust services team who can answer your questions and provide assistance with estate planning, elder care services and more.

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