Tips for Helping Elderly Parents With Their Finances


Dear Carrie: My parents are in their early 80s. Fortunately, they're in relatively good health and still quite independent, but I want to help them be prepared should things change. How can I get involved with their finances without being intrusive? -- A Reader

Dear Reader: While popular wisdom might say that 80 is the new 60, the reality of aging means that no matter how young we may feel now, chances are we're going to need some type of help in the future. And while it's often difficult to get older adults to accept that possibility, being prepared ahead of time is the best way to ease the transition.

That said, money can be a touchy subject at any age, so you're wise to be sensitive to your parents' desire for independence and their potential reluctance to discuss the future. But the realities of today -- particularly the prevalence of scams targeting the elderly -- mean it's more important than ever to get the conversation going.

Start by Asking Your Parents About Their Current Financial Security

A lot of families don't like to talk about money. But if you come from a position of concern for your parents' well-being, they might feel more comfortable. And at their age, it only makes sense for them to share certain financial details with their family. Here are some questions to start with:

-- Are they easily handling everyday expenses? Do they have enough income to cover the essentials -- or even things like a gym membership that help them thrive? If they're struggling to stay on top of bills or debts, you might help them create a more realistic budget or set up automatic payments for certain monthly expenses. You may take something like autopay for granted, but your parents may not have considered it.


-- Do they have a financial adviser? Would they be willing to introduce you and perhaps include you in a meeting? If they don't have an adviser, maybe you can take the lead in helping them make a simple financial plan. At the very least, you might help them take an inventory of their financial resources -- pensions, individual retirement accounts, brokerage accounts and Social Security benefits -- so they have a clear idea of the money they have available for both the short and long term.

-- Have they updated their estate plan? Perhaps you've already talked to them about whether or not they have an estate plan in place, including an advance health care directive and powers of attorney for both finances and health care decisions. If not, don't hesitate to bring it up. A basic estate plan is something everyone should have, no matter their age -- yourself included. If they have a plan, when was the last time they reviewed it? Have things changed since then?

-- Are important documents accessible? In case of emergency, it's important that you or someone else whom your parents trust be able to locate important documents. These can include wills, trusts, bank and brokerage statements, insurance policies, mortgage documents and safe-deposit box information, as well as passwords for online accounts.

When introducing these topics, make it clear that you're not questioning their capability; you just want to be a resource should they need help.


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