The Holidays Offer a Good Chance to Talk with Parents About Finances – but Handle the Subject with Care and Empathy
For many families, the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day will be different this year than last. One year ago, millions of families skipped holiday celebrations entirely due to COVID-related fears and travel restrictions. Yet in spite of the persistence and unpredictability of the virus, 2021 will feel different, with most Americans seemingly determined to gather in person once again.
In this article from NerdWallet, financial reporter Liz Weston observes that holiday get-togethers with aging parents may present adult kids with the opportunity to have “the money talk” with Mom and Dad. The issues of estate planning, long-term care, and a parent’s financial health – ignored during pandemic-forced separation – may be very much on your mind as a loving and responsible adult son or daughter. But watch out, says Weston: if handled poorly, your good intentions to talk finances face to face could turn a happy holiday reunion into an emotional minefield.
When Discussing Money with Parents, Tread Carefully
As NerdWallet points out, this year’s holiday season may feel particularly weighty thanks to the fact that many of us have been unable to see family since the pandemic began. This could pile more pressure on the sorts of conversations adult children might want to have with their parents at family gatherings regarding estate planning, long-term care, and other financial issues. “Tread carefully, though,” says Weston, “because these discussions can easily go wrong.”
If you’re hoping to talk with your aging parents about the state of their finances this holiday season, the article warns, a little planning and a lot of respect can go a long way in dealing with potential powder keg issues before they have the opportunity to blow up into conflict.
The Greater the Urgency, the Harder the Conversation
If possible, says Weston, it’s always better to be proactive when talking about difficult topics like personal finance. Having conversations early and often about these issues can remove a lot of the pressure and difficulty. “For example,” Weston writes, “talking about how to pay for assisted living or a home health aide may be less fraught when the need is hypothetical than when your parent has just fallen down the stairs or is in the hospital.”
Talking about something “in theory” is always going to be easier than discussions in crisis-mode, and this is especially true with finances. Also, due to COVID restrictions, having calm, face to face conversations has been impossible for quite some time. While there are always plenty of obstacles to frank conversations about money, including the desire to avoid conflict and the fear of burdening family members, Weston provides the following steps to aid in having the necessary talk.
Step #1: Take Time to Adjust Your Attitude
Mindset is everything when going into a tough conversation, especially with family. Respect, patience, and grace can go a long way. Amy Goyer of AARP explains, “Having a superior or condescending attitude toward your parents, or trying to tell them what they should do, will just make the conversation harder. Even though your role changes, you are still their child, and therefore they deserve your respect.”
Keeping your parents’ hopes and desires in focus and planning around them will show the folks that you care about them, while doing some research and bringing options to them that are unique to their needs can really lay a solid groundwork for the conversation.
Weston writes, “If they don’t have long-term care insurance, for example, they might be able to sell investments or tap their home equity to pay for a nursing home stay. If they don’t have an advanced directive or other estate planning documents, you could offer to help them use estate planning software or find them an estate planning attorney. If bills aren’t being paid, you can offer to set up autopayments, take over bill paying or find a daily money manager who will do it for a fee.”
Step #2: Remember to Focus on Feelings
Easing into such a tough topic will depend a lot on how your family communicates. “For some people, an indirect approach is more effective,” Goyer told Weston. “For other people, they’re going to see right through you and be angry that you’re indirect.”
An indirect approach could involve simply mentioning an article you read on the subject, or that you saw something about it on TV, or that you’re making your own plans. But regardless of where the topic begins, your parents’ thoughts are what really count. Weston writes, “Take the approach you think will work best with your parents. However you bring it up, pivot quickly to asking for your parents’ perspective. It’s important to listen more than you talk, especially at the beginning.”
Goyer elaborates: “Ask them how they’re feeling about the finances, or the housework or the driving or whatever it is. Do they ever feel uncomfortable? Do they ever feel unsafe?” Starting from a foundation of your parents’ feelings, and really listening to how they feel about their concerns, should help to keep defensiveness to a minimum. And remember, if they act nonchalant or don’t seem worried about it, stay cool. Telling them what they “need to do” is a recipe for disaster. Instead, come at it from your feelings, expressing that you want to help because of your own concerns. Your role should always be one of support.
Step #3: Be Prepared to Drop the Subject
Your preparation for this conversation should include being ready for an angry, fearful, or sad reaction from your parents. “Your folks may be embarrassed about their financial situation, worried about the future or resistant to the idea of needing help,” Goyer says. “Acknowledge those feelings, even if you don’t agree with their viewpoint.” The important thing here is that you recognize that change is difficult, and your parents’ feelings of insecurity, anger, or anxiety are all valid. Part of that recognition is the willingness to drop the subject temporarily.
“For some people, (discussing money) is fine, but for others, it’s going to ruin the holiday,” Goyer says. “Maybe the holiday is when we observe, and we make a plan to talk later about it.”
Overall, coming at any tough discussion from a position of love and care for your parents will ultimately guide you correctly. Make your plans, but allow for patience. Listen to your parents, respect their feelings, and learn when to let a tough topic go for the sake of peace.
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(originally reported at www.nerdwallet.com)