Though we would like to ignore the thought, someday we may have concerns about our parents’ ability to handle their own finances.
Maybe Mom and Dad don’t seem as sharp anymore, or maybe you’ve seen signs of forgetfulness or heard talk of sketchy financial propositions.
Should you consider stepping in? When? And even more tricky – How? Answers aren’t always easy, but a few guidelines can help you stay in the loop with your parents’ finances and head off any potential problems.
Ask about their wishes
“An opportune moment to discuss finances is when your parents are retiring or writing a will or trust,” explains Beth Blanco, Financial Counselor with Foresters Everyday Money.
“They will likely ask you for a bit of personal information when filling out retirement or legal paperwork, which opens the door to ask additional questions.”
Questions such as:
Who would they want to handle their finances if one or both become incapacitated? Have they made a list of all debts and assets including contact information?
Keeping a list of this information and telling trusted family members where it’s located is extremely helpful if you do need to step in and help manage things. Consider a family talk so siblings can also be part of the discussion.
Watch for at-risk activities
It’s not likely your parents are going to suddenly confess, “I get too confused to manage my own finances sometimes,” but you may hear more subtle clues.
You may hear them complaining that the bank messed up their account ‘again’ or expressing frustration over a creditor who keeps sending notices.
It may be that you notice urgent or final notice envelopes when you stop by to visit, or mail stacked up that seems like more than just a few days worth. Perhaps you may even hear them take phone calls that seem to be from creditors.
One or more of these could signal a larger problem. Gently ask probing questions such as, “What was that about mom?” or “Tell me what the bank’s doing? Maybe I can help.”
Keep a conversational tone and offer to assist if your parent seems frustrated with the situation. Seniors are prime targets for internet and phone scams, so make sure you also talk about potential traps.
When it’s time, don’t shy away from “The talk”
If you have seen enough warning signs and now believe your parents are in need of intervention, don’t ignore the situation. Often things are more complicated and involved than you may be seeing initially.
The key is not to drop a big conversation bomb all at once. Instead, have a series of small conversations starting with a specific concern you may have. The idea of handing over even some financial control requires time to process, accept and agree to.
Offer to help first with reviewing bank account statements, which will often give clear insight into income and expenses. You can also offer to accompany your parents when visiting with their accountant or investment advisor, even if just to be another set of ears.
Express to your parents that you are concerned and are willing to help if they are open to the idea – which they may not be at first.
Above all, remember that it’s your parents’ money and you are only there to help with the administrative tasks.
Keep open lines of communication and regularly discuss money matters. Offer to provide reminders or setup a monthly visit specifically to assist with bill paying and planning.
In time your parents will likely come to understand that you are there to help, not barge in and take over. The relief you will all feel can be worth the discomfort of the initial first steps. Then, as more assistance may be needed, you will have laid the groundwork for mutual trust and cooperation.
414395 CAN/US (11/16)