How to Talk to Aging Parents About Their Finances: 12 Tips

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Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

Of all of the topics to talk with your aging parents about, finances might be the most challenging. These tactics might sound familiar: your parents tell you not to worry, or say, “Let’s talk about this another time.”

The other typical response is, “We have a will, and it’s in the desk drawer. But let’s not talk about that now.” Despite your repeated efforts, your parents may rebuff you time and time again with these (and other) excuses. 

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The reasons for this resistance are complex. For people of your parents’ generation, talking about money may be seen as inappropriate and private. Or, your parents might have concerns about their finances and be reluctant to address it.

Discussions about finances are a critically important part of advance planning and caring for your aging parents. We will help you get this conversation started and hopefully completed and resolved before a crisis occurs. 

Can You Actually Control Your Aging Parents’ Finances?

There are several different ways you can control your parents’ finances, but some of these only take effect when your parents lack the capacity to manage any longer. In one scenario, your parent may have dementia and require someone to take over bill paying and all accounts. One mechanism for this is petitioning the court for guardianship (also called conservatorship in some states), which gives you complete legal authority over the estate.

Some families choose the option of guardianship when their parent is the victim of fraud or financial scams. For guardianship to be granted, there must be evidence that your parent cannot make reasonable financial decisions.

Your parents could also establish a revocable trust that allows you to take over finances at any time your parents wish you to do so. With the authority of being a trustee, if your parent doesn’t meet the definition of incapacity but needs help managing their finances, you can step in. You just need to ensure that all accounts are placed in the trust. An estate planning attorney can walk you through the steps.

And finally, depending on the state where you live, your parents can draw up a financial power of attorney. The powers granted by a financial power of attorney can be very broad or limited to certain activities. 

How to Talk to Aging Parents About Their Current Finances

How to talk with your aging parents about their finances depends on their personality, timing, and your approach to discussions with them. Some of our suggestions will resonate, and others may not. Pick and choose the best tips for your situation and see what works. 

1. Pick the right time to talk

When you decide to schedule a time to discuss finances with your aging parents, pick a time where you know they will be calm and focused. For some people, this is morning, and for others, afternoon. It might seem odd, but make sure your parents have eaten before starting a conversation. When people feel tired or hungry, it’s hard to focus.

When you contact your parents to meet with them, it might not be necessary to say you specifically want to talk about finances. Let them know you would like to speak with them about their long-term plans and what they want as they age. Talk about finances in the larger context of retirement wishes.

2. Talk about your own financial plan

Starting the conversation by talking about your own plans for retirement and aging can be a great way to get things started. In the course of the conversation, you can explain all that you have learned about the cost of care, senior living options, and your personal desires for aging.

You may want to age in place or consider an active retirement community. Talking about your finances will pave the way for the question, “What do you envision your aging to look like?”

3. Give real-life examples

Suppose you know of an older adult who had a sudden illness or accident. In that case, you can talk about what happened, the family decisions about care, costs of options, what insurance pays for, and the importance of adult children having access to financial information.

If you don’t have real-life examples, use possible scenarios where you all walk through what could happen. For instance, if one of your parents falls and needs additional care in the home. It can be challenging for older adults to envision a time when they need more assistance, but it’s important to discuss the possibility.

4. Discuss reasons you need to know about your parents’ financial situation

It’s reasonable for you to express your concern about your parent’s ability to pay for care. If either or both parents are unable to pay bills or make decisions about care, someone in the family needs that legal authority.

Let your parents know that you may be unable to help sufficiently without financial power of attorney. To advocate for them and plan for their aging, you need access to their financial information. 

5. Prepare to talk about mechanisms for protecting assets

Your parents may understandably want to know about their options in protecting assets and giving you financial power of attorney.

You can talk about the basics, but you can recommend meeting with an estate planning attorney to discuss the best mechanisms, such as a trust, for giving you the authority to manage their affairs if needed. If your parents are open to these discussions, it’s helpful for you to prepare with financial planning information. 

6. Be patient

If your parents get tired or irritable during a discussion of finances, plan to meet another day. It could take several meetings to go through all of the accounts and get an idea of debt and what assets you can tap into for care. Take the time you need, but keep things moving forward. 

How to Talk to Aging Parents About Financing Retirement and Long-Term Care

Talking with your aging parents about financing and long-term care will involve some tough discussions since most people underestimate the cost of long-term care. You will want these conversations to be honest but not frightening. Keep things positive, and dive into the details when you need to.

7. Ask your parents what they want for retirement

Discuss your parents' vision for retirement. If you haven’t talked about this before, you might be surprised by their answer. They may want to age in place or go to an active retirement or continuing care retirement community.

Few people say they want to go to assisted living, but you’ll need to talk about circumstances where that may be the only viable option. It’s not unusual for people to have retirement dreams but struggle to understand how to pay for them. 

8. Find out your parent’s insurance information

Your parents probably have Medicare, but there is a significant difference between traditional Medicare and a Medicare Advantage plan. Healthcare options will be more limited with a Medicare Advantage plan. Also, you’ll educate yourself and your parents about what Medicare pays for and what it doesn’t.

Many people are under the impression that Medicare pays for assisted living, but it does not. If it helps, type out what Medicare covers and what will be private pay so they can refer to the information. 

9. Talk about the costs of care

One way to approach costs of care is to discuss some possible scenarios that might trigger a change (for example, if your parent becomes ill or is hospitalized). Talk openly about the care you’re willing to provide and the care they’ll need to pay for. Discuss at what point your parents would be willing to consider assisted or other senior living options.

Discuss the types of long-term care and the costs of each. Find out the price of assisted living in your area and the additional fees associated with extra care. You can call a couple of home-care companies to get hourly pricing on professional caregivers.

If your parents are interested in continuing care retirement communities, look at the financing details since most require a  buy-in with additional monthly fees. Help your parents feel empowered and in control by asking them to lay out their retirement plan with your support.

10. Consult a financial advisor

If your parents are confused or want additional guidance on paying for care, consult a financial advisor.

Even in situations where your parent’s finances are limited, or they still carry a lot of debt, a financial advisor may be able to find ways to extend their assets well into the future. Paying a financial advisor may be well worth the peace of mind they can provide. 

11. Bring other family members into the discussion

You probably don’t want to be the only child to talk with your parents about financing retirement and long-term care. If you have siblings, get them involved by including them in the discussions and asking for their help. Strategize together about the best way to approach these conversations.

12. Stay persistent but respectful

These conversations can get uncomfortable. That’s OK! Stick with your plan to discuss how to finance retirement and long-term care until you have all reached an agreement. Always show respect for your parents by acknowledging their fears and anxieties and reassuring them. 

How to Talk with Aging Parents About Finances

Aging brings changes and transitions that can be challenging to discuss and plan for. The earlier you have these conversations about finances with your parents, the better. Care comes at a cost, and your parents will likely want to feel empowered to make their own decisions. Your gentle guidance will ensure that their wishes are honored.  

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