Protecting Your Parents’ Finances

Now is the time to get a handle on Mom and Dad's money matters. It could make the difference between a comfortable retirement or tarnished golden years.

Elsie Darby has been a homemaker for most of her life. The 72-year-old has been the kind of civic-minded woman who also regarded herself as being highly self-sufficient. Then, one day, a few years ago, the grandmother of eight found herself short of cash and unable to pay her monthly bills. "The first time it happened I was hysterical," she recalls. "I had never run out of money before. So what else could I do besides talk to my children and grandchildren?"

Luckily, Darby’s family was there for her — but only after she had the courage to speak up about her situation. Unfortunately, she is a rarity. Most parents and grandparents don’t talk to their grown children about money matters. Moreover, adult children frequently have a hard time approaching elders about their financial status.

But there’s never been a more urgent need for such intergenerational communication than now. Consider the following: the Census Bureau has found that Americans aged 85 and older now represent the fastest-growing segment of the population. In fact, senior citizens total 33 million people, or 13% of all U.S. citizens. And the baby boom generation will add to this aging population, reaching age 65 between the years 2010 and 2030. With these statistics in mind, be talked to a variety of experts about how working professionals can best safeguard their parents’ financial health. The challenge is even greater for members of the so-called sandwich generation, individuals who face the dual task of caring for their own kids and looking after their parents. Still, opening the lines of communication — from a parent’s insurance policies to his or her burial wishes — can ultimately bring peace of mind and greater security for all involved.

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS
If the thought of broaching this subject makes you a bit squeamish, recognize that you’re hardly alone. Many adult children may not want to talk about the matter because to do so alters relationships.

To some, inquiring about your parents’ economic well-being feels like a role reversal — one that’s likely to be uncomfortable. Additionally, many adults have only a nebulous idea of how to manage their own dollars — let alone someone else’s. Says Susan Richards, a certified financial planner in Prescott, Arizona: "Children don’t feel knowledgeable enough to approach their parents about how money should be handled."

Then there’s the thorny issue of family politics. A son or daughter may wonder: "Should I talk to Mom and Dad or should one of my siblings?" Sometimes adult children fret so much about who should make the approach that a discussion never takes place. Children also worry that their financial questions will be seen as prying and intrusive, says Richards, author of Protect Your Parents and Their Financial Health …Talk With Them Before It’s Too Late (Dearborn Publishing, $19.95).

Of course, the parents are often apprehensive too. Many parents’ pride, sense of autonomy and self-worth are tied to their roles as caretakers and providers for their

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