I'm at FinCon, a financial bloggers conference, this week. For me, it is like being a kid in a candy store: talking about money all day! Last night at dinner, I sat with Zina Kumok of Debt Free After Three, Valerie Rind of Gold Diggers and Deadbeat Dads, and Doug Nordman of The Military Guide. One of the many topics we discussed was how to talk to your parents about their finances before you find yourself taking care of them.
Talking to your parents about finances is frequently difficult, and it can be especially tough if you only see them every year or two or three because you live far away, whether with the military or not. Thankfully, there are a couple of different tactics you can use to bring up the subject in a slightly less awkward way.
The Other People's Problems Method
Watching your friends or other family deal with tough situations is a natural way to bring up the topic of finances with your parents. This can be based upon person situations in their world, or personal situations in their world. This is particularly appropriate if your parents are caring for their parents, and currently facing challenges that could have been avoiding with earlier planning and/or communication.
It isn't horribly hard to say, "My friend Alison just had to put her mother into a long-term care facility, and she can't even tell if her parents had the right insurance or assets to pay for it. Can we talk about this?" Put the blame on your friend - that is what friends are for!
The "Here's My Info" Method
Since I am sure that all of you have your stuff 100% together in the "difficult paperwork and planning" department, you can use your preparations to start a conversation with your parents. Put together an envelope with a copy of your wills, powers of attorney, advance medical directive, and important financial information, and give it to your parents with instructions to open it/use it if something happens to you. Then, you can ask them where you will find all this paperwork if something happens to them. If they don't have that sort of thing organized, this will hopefully spur them into some sort of action. Hopefully.
The "Taking Care of Mom/Dad" Method
Another way to appeal to your parents is to focus on what will happen if one of them dies or becomes incapacitated, and the other is left dealing with all the issues alone. This strategy is particularly good when talking to the parent who currently handles most financial matters and recognizes that this job might be unfamiliar or challenging to the other parent. Without gender stereotyping, "I want to make sure I can help Mom" might be just the words that Dad needs to hear to open up about previously taboo topics.
There are many other ways to broach the subject of finances with your parents, and only you can guess which methods might work best within your relationship with your parents. The important thing is that you find a way to start the conversation. Even if it is small as "do you have long-term care insurance" or "where might I find important papers if something happens," every little bit helps and sets the stage for the next, hopefully bigger talk.
Need a little motivation to do your necessary paperwork, or talk to your parents about theirs? Consider reading the story behind www.getyourshittogether.com, or The Military Guide's The Pitfalls of Your Parents' Finances. Either should be enough to help you find the energy to bring up tough topics with your parents, whether it is during the next family dinner, or during your next Skype session. I suspect you'll be glad that you did.