Have "The Talk" with Your Parents
Stop fretting about their financial health and just ask them. This is how.
By Clint Willis

(MONEY Magazine) – Face it, your parents are getting up there. You know you need to find out how they're doing financially and what, if any, plans they've made. But you keep putting it off because it's so darned awkward--you don't want them to think you're prying or, worse, just counting the days to your inheritance. On the other hand, what if they're in really bad straits and need help? So take a deep breath, and do what you have to do. Now. Your folks won't hate you for asking. Just get the conversation going.

step 1


Line up the key questions.

• Do you have enough money? How big is your pension? Social Security? Are you using savings to keep going? Who's your adviser?

• What if you get sick? Do you have a durable power of attorney to handle your money if needed? Have you considered long-term-care insurance?

• Where will you live? Are you able to maintain your house? Would you consider moving closer to one of us kids? How do you really feel about assisted living or nursing care?

• What if you die? Have you updated your will since 2000? Have you written down how to dispose of your personal possessions?

step 2


Involve your siblings.

• Ask for their opinions. You'll head off possible hard feelings. Plus, with siblings involved, your folks will know everyone is concerned, not just you.

• Delegate. Ask your siblings to tackle tasks that match their abilities, proximity to your parents and level of interest.

step 3


Use an indirect approach.

• Get the timing right. Pick a casual, low-stress occasion--not a holiday or big family gathering.

• Talk about yourself first. "Mom and Dad, I finally wrote my will, and I feel better for having done it. Have you updated yours lately?"

• Use someone else's experience. "I hate to see Aunt Mary struggling so much since Uncle Joe's stroke. Do you have a plan if something happens to Dad?"

• Drop off a brochure or article. "I clipped this great article about making your money last in retirement."

step 4


Address their worries first.

• Start with health-care issues. Many families find health easier to talk about. Once the conversation gets going, you can move on to money.

• Let them know they're the boss. "I want you to be in control. But the only way to ensure you stay that way is to tell me what you want while you're still well."

• Don't do everything at once. "The talk" is actually a series of conversations that should continue over time.

step 5


Make it a dialogue.

• Respect their privacy. They may feel more comfortable talking to a third party. So recommend some advisers (see the box above), and make sure your folks really follow through.

• Keep their wishes paramount. Offer your help and opinions. But in the end, remember that it's their money.