I think this article is important because it presents some of the real issues of why parents are reluctant to talk to children about their finances as they age. While everyone is quick to advocate for advanced planning, the human element of this is something often left out. There are many reasons people don’t want to talk about the future, and we sometimes lose sight of the respect that is needed when these moments occur.
Getting rebuffed hurts.
Have you ever tried to talk to your aging parent about finances and been told to take a hike?
“Just mind your own business. I’ll be fine”.
Or has your aging parent ever said, “Let’s talk about that some other time” when you bring up the subject of money and the future? Of course the some other time never comes.
Some parents clam up, change the subject and otherwise put off having a conversation when their adult kids raise it.
What are they afraid of?
According to what I’ve learned at AgingParents.com from asking directly is that some aging parents are afraid of losing their independence and control. They are afraid of being put in a home if they lose control over their money. It is frightening to bring up something that they believe may lead to loss. They are Depression era survivors. If you talk about money you could lose everything.
Their thinking seems to be that if they can avoid talking about it, they can avoid the things they fear.
When visiting my 89 year old mother in law Alice, recently, my husband, Mikol and I talked to her and her friends about why people won’t discuss finances. Alice is very open and wants Mikol’s help in managing her finances. But many of her friends are not so open. We went out to dinner with some of them and asked them their thoughts on the secrecy around money in their age group.
Here’s what they said are the top reasons why elders don’t want to disclose what they have and don’t want to talk about it with their adult kids.
“If the parents have a lot of assets, they are afraid that their kids will lose motivation to work if they know about how much their parents are worth.”
“If their kids know how much they have, some parents are afraid their kids will pressure them to give the kids money as gifts, or more than they want to give as gifts and it will be unpleasant or confrontational.”
They are afraid that “if their kids know what they’ve got that the kids will take advantage of their parents, or try to get control over the money as the parents get older” and less able to fend for themselves.
Are aging parents’ fears realistic as described here? Perhaps. There is no doubt that in some families we see at AgingParents.com, the “vulture syndrome” does exist. Some ruthless adult kids are circling, relatively speaking, waiting for a parent to pass so they can inherit. Fortunately, I don’t observe that to be a majority of adult children I see.
Perhaps in some families, kids will pressure their parents for money or try to take advantage of them. After all, financial elder abuse is a $3.2 billion dollar a year problem. Most abuse is committed by families. However, these risks are not a good reason to avoid discussion of finances.
If you are a responsible adult child with parents who are getting older and less capable than they once were, it is definitely time to get past their resistance about the subject of money and the future. There’s one good reason for this. If you don’t do it, you may have it all come down on your head when a crisis hits.
Imagine your parent with a stroke, unable to speak. Or your parent falls and is unconscious for a time. If you don’t even know what bank Mom uses, or where the accounts are, how useful are you going to be? Someone still has to pay the bills when your parent is incapacitated. If they bank online and you don’t have the passwords, you won’t be able to do much.
So, the tips for the day are:
1. Insist that your parent speak with you about finances because it’s for your sake. They would be putting a huge burden on you if anything went wrong with their health and you had no information.
2. Find out what they have, where it is, how to get to it, and what it would take to manage finances for them in the event of an emergency.
3. Find out if they have done any planning for long term care in the event that they could not manage without help at home. If they have done no planning, this is a good reason to seek an appointment with their financial advisor post haste.
4. If you have siblings or other relatives who are involved with your parents, call a family meeting. Think it through and talk it through about what you’ll do if a parent suddenly loses independence. It can happen to anyone.
It’s a bit like disaster preparedness: we are all likely to fare better if we have a plan about how to take care of ourselves.
If this hits home for you, consider a date for you to take the first step and get it on your calendar. If you feel lost and confused, help is available to everyone, no matter where you are. Your Area Agency on Aging is a place to locate sources of help.