3 Icebreakers For Difficult Conversations With Your Parents About Money

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 Sara Gelsheimer By: Sara Gelsheimer
How do you approach difficult conversations about money with your parents?

A survey from GoBankingRates found that 73 percent of adults have not had in-depth conversations about money with their parents, which comes as no surprise.

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Forget politics or sex — money can be the most taboo topic among families, even in the most loving and understanding of households.

Although talking about money can be uncomfortable, it’s also increasingly important.

Figuring out finances with your aging parents can unburden the relationship and make caring for them easier. It can also bring much-needed clarity to their own expectations and help everyone plan for the future.

But, when you avoid talking to aging parents about changes to their financial health, the result can be years of murky misunderstandings and unnecessary stress.

For example, I work with a couple in their 70s who have three adult children. In recent years, the couple has started talking about their financial situation with two of their three children.

They assumed the third child wasn’t interested so they avoided having those conversations with him. But, when I spoke to him, I discovered that he was at something of a crossroads in his life.

He was trying to get his finances in order so he could leave his well-paying job for a less lucrative career that he would enjoy more.

He knew his decision would be impacted by whether he would receive an inheritance down the road but he felt disconnected from his parents’ plans.

While I couldn’t share what I knew of his parents’ situation, I could encourage him to approach the difficult conversation about money with them.

In turn, I could also help his parents see why it would be wise to give their children a good understanding of their finances.

A few months later, both parties opened up and shared their concerns. The son now feels like he can pursue more flexibility in his career and his parents are happy to see him doing something he enjoys. It’s a true win-win scenario.

Although approaching difficult conversations like this — or even knowing how and when to talk about money — isn’t always easy, the peace of mind it offers everyone is well worth any trouble.

And like with any tough conversation, actually initiating the money discussion is often the hardest part. Once this threshold has been crossed, the conversation becomes much easier to manage.

The first step is to find a good time to start talking about money. Hold a family meeting or invite a trusted — but neutral — third party to help guide the conversation.

This will eliminate some of the pressure for both you and your parents. Once you’ve found a good time, set the tone for the discussion.

The key to approaching difficult conversations about money is to come from a place of love and care — not of guilt or self-interest.

Here are 3 icebreakers for difficult conversations with your parents about money in a healthy manner.

1. Set up a financial plan with an advisor.

"I’m working with a financial advisor to make sure I’m set up to achieve my financial goals of sending my kids to college, retiring on time, giving to the charities I’m passionate about, and [insert goal here]. I wanted to see whether there was anything regarding your financial situation that I should take into consideration in my planning?"

If you’re expected to inherit any amount of wealth, a heads-up will help you set a financial plan to reach your goals.

If you have children of your own, for whom you're saving for education costs, it’s helpful to know if you can expect more financial assistance in the future — or if your parents plan to pay for your children’s schooling.

Then, when figuring out your finances down the line, you can better decide whether to put more cash toward your own retirement or into a 529 plan for your kids.

2. Ensure that you have all the necessary documents together.

"My partner and I are getting all our estate documents in order in case something happens to us. It has been so helpful for us, so I wanted to see whether you had a good plan in place. If so, would you be willing to share it — especially if you want me to be involved in the estate administration?" 

If you’ll play a role in your parents’ estate documents — like a trustee or a power of attorney should your parents become incapacitated or after they pass — having a conversation about those responsibilities is critical.

Even if your parents don’t want to share the actual dollar amount of their assets, it will save a lot of trouble, stress, and worry down the line if you understand where the assets exist and who you’ll need to contact about each.

3. Discuss their wishes.

"I want to be sure your wishes are upheld and that your legacy lives on if something happens to you. I’d love to talk more about those wishes when you’re ready to discuss them."

If you’re struggling with talking to your aging parents about finances, it's understandable — it’s uncomfortable to discuss a future when they won’t be present.

Approaching the difficult conversation this way sets it up to be as positive as possible. Your parents’ finances greatly determine what their end-of-life experience will be.

And if they outlive their assets and have to depend on you for support, you’ll need a plan in place to care for them both financially and physically.

Crossed wires and unspoken plans can be damaging for both relationships and for your family’s financial health.

According to one study, nearly 70 percent of parents over 55 expect their children to help them manage their money in retirement, but 36 percent of adult children have no idea they’ve been entrusted with this task.

The more you and your parents can communicate, the better.

Have these difficult conversations and talk about money, as soon as possible.

It doesn’t matter who initiates — break the ice, start the conversation, and be honest and open with each other.

Talking to your aging parents about finances might seem uncomfortable at first, but everyone will be better off for having these conversations.

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Disclaimer: This material has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be used as investment, tax, legal or accounting advice. All investing involves risk. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Diversification does not ensure a profit or guarantee against a loss. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors.

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Sara came to Plancorp in 2013 with a strong financial background and an even stronger commitment to financial education—particularly for women. A Wealth Manager and Founder of InspireHer (Plancorp's Women's Initiative), Sara is also a new mom. More »