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Helping Aging Parents With Their Money

Many of us will have to care for aging parents at some point in time. For some, that will mean managing your parent’s finances as they deal with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. For others, it may mean helping support your parents financially or physically.

Some reading this are parents who want to make their wishes known and minimize burdens for their children. Others are simultaneously in the position of concerned parent and child.

Talking finances with family can be hard, regardless of your situation. When mixing family and finance, money is only one piece of the actual conversation.

We need to have better conversations to be prepared before adversity strikes.

I recently began helping my parents with their finances, primarily with managing their investments. We’ve also had discussions about estate planning.

It has gone well to this point. But some topics remain sensitive. And I want to be sure that I’m covering all the bases for them and doing it well.

So I was immediately interested when Doug Nordman recommended Cameron Huddleston’s Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations with Your Parents About Their Finances as one of the best books he’s read this year.

The book is not yet released so I reached out to Huddleston with an offer to review an advance copy on the blog if I felt it would add value for our readers.

Truth be told, I reached out for selfish reasons. This sounded like a book I needed, and I didn’t want to wait.

Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk will be released next Tuesday, June 25th. Read on for my full review and learn how it will help you deal with this difficult topic better.

Don’t Wait to Talk

Huddleston wrote a compelling introduction explaining her motivation for writing the book. She began helping her mother, who later was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, by doing simple tasks like paying bills and balancing her checkbook after her mother began showing issues with her memory.

Huddleston became her mother’s primary caretaker before having to eventually move her into a nursing home. Despite her training as a financial journalist, Huddleston admits she was unprepared for the tasks and responsibilities that she had suddenly inherited.

She emphasizes that there is never a good time to have conversations about aging and death. But not having had them, she described the challenge of figuring out her mother’s finances being “like trying to put together a puzzle without knowing what the final picture was supposed to be.”

Huddleston effectively uses stories of others she’s met in her career as a financial journalist to highlight challenges they’ve faced. Two that stood out were those of Doug Nordman and Ryan Inman.

Nordman is a respected personal finance writer at The Military Guide. Inman, who I interviewed last fall, is a fee-only financial planner and consumer advocate.

Despite their expertise in personal finance, each faced serious challenges when they began dealing with their parents’ finances. The financial pieces are relatively simple, but getting all parties to talk about them and then implement a plan can be challenging.

Huddleston’s story and other cautionary tales she highlighted demonstrate that not having these uncomfortable conversations now only leads to bigger problems in the future. This can include a lack of authority to help parents when it is needed, unnecessary additional family stress at the worst possible times, and the caretaker taking a financial hit.

Breaking Down Barriers

In order to have better conversations with your parents about money, it’s important to understand the factors that make it so challenging. The author does a great job of identifying these issues and suggesting strategies to deal with them.

As I read through some of the challenges, I realized how lucky I am. Money is not taboo in our family. My parents, my brother, and I are all financially responsible and self-sufficient. We all trust one another.

Still, these are not easy topics to talk about. Huddleston points out that parents have a strong instinct to care for their children. That instinct does not disappear when the children are grown. It can be hard to see the roles reversed.

As parents age, they don’t want to give up their independence and many are afraid to face the reality of their mortality. Some parents may be afraid you’ll judge them for the financial choices they’ve made or the way they manage their money. Others fear their children may not be happy with their final wishes.

So they simply avoid the topic.

I’ve experienced some of these challenges since I began having these conversations with my parents. I look forward to sharing Huddleston’s book with my parents and my brother to incorporate some of the author’s strategies, introduce overlooked topics, and help us continue to have better conversations.

Stacking the Deck

Some of you may face more challenging circumstances. Huddleston cites troubling statistics demonstrating that many older adults haven’t drawn up a will. Many more haven’t established durable power of attorney or a health care power of attorney.

Once someone begins to experience cognitive decline, it may be too late to do these important tasks. You may have to take legal action to get the authority to do necessary tasks to assist your parents. And you may have to assist them without knowing their wishes.

Many people under save for retirement and are woefully unprepared to pay for long term care. This can place incredible financial and personal stress on adult children forced into the role of caretaker.

Maybe finances are taboo in your family and your parents are unwilling to broach the topic. Or you don’t have good family dynamics.

Many families have dealt with death or divorce of a parent followed by the widowed or divorced parent remarrying. This can leave adult children with blended families, further complicating family dynamics.

Huddleston interviewed many experts and outlines strategies to address these and other challenges to help improve the odds of having better conversations under challenging circumstances.

She devotes full chapters to talking to your siblings, what not to say, and conversation starters. She also provides a step-by-step approach to have successful conversations.

Covering Your Bases

The first half of the book emphasizes how to have these difficult conversations. The second half is packed with detailed planning information to help you once the conversations start.

I found the chapter discussing estate planning documents particularly informative. The author went in depth on each of the documents that are imperative for an estate plan.

Huddleston provides a concise and clear explanation of the differences between wills and living trusts. She also provides key details about the practical implementation of estate planning documents that I hadn’t thought enough about.

For example, I sat down with my parents and their attorney to establish a will and living will when we all lived in Pennsylvania. However, the conversation needs to be ongoing.

Now that I live in Utah, we need to verify if I can be executor of the will (I learned some states require the executor to be a resident of that state) or if it makes sense for me to continue being their health care power of attorney.

Chapters on long-term care planning and talking to your parents about when it’s time to move out of their home effectively combined having conversations about these sensitive topics with covering different options and how to pay for them.

Having witnessed my parents in the caretaker role with each of my grandparents, I appreciate the need to discuss the financial costs of being a caretaker. The emotional and time challenges it creates in caring for yourself also must be taken into account.

Another chapter deals with talking to your parents about scammers. Seniors are frequently targeted and lose billions of dollars each year to fraud. Huddleston provides signs we can look for to help protect our aging parents as well as tips to help them protect themselves.

Pay If Forward

Huddleston clearly identified her target audience as people like herself; adult children who are helping, or in the future may have to help care for aging parents. After spending the whole book discussing how to get your parents to talk about their finances and help the reader be prepared to help them when needed, she flips the script.

The final chapter challenges readers to make sure we have our own estate planning documents in place. We have to get our own financial houses in order so as not to be a burden on our children. We must prepare for our own long-term care.

It is an effective plea to not repeat the cycle of avoiding these difficult tasks and being afraid to talk about them.

Critiques

I only write overall positive book reviews. This is because it doesn’t serve me, readers of the blog, or the author to waste my time to finish a book I don’t like or to write a review if I don’t think a book will add value for readers of our blog.

It is important to point out parts of books I disagree with or think are ineffective. My critiques of Mom and Dad We Need to Talk are minor.

My biggest criticism is that the book is repetitive at various points. This was particularly true toward the end of the book in Chapter 14: If at First You Don’t Succeed. . . and Chapter 15: Getting Through to Reluctant Parents. I skimmed both as they mostly rehashed ideas already presented in earlier chapters.

The other thing I don’t care for is the author using scare tactics and justifying white lies to try to get parents to start talking. In fairness though, a big theme of the book is getting people to start conversations and breakthrough to parents unwilling to talk to their adult children about money and estate planning.

These are challenges I don’t have to face. Particularly in cases where parents are placing themselves in physical or serious financial danger, the ends likely justify the means.

Caring for aging parents can create substantial financial, physical, and emotional burdens for the caretaker. Those who may be thrust into these roles deserve information that enables them to be prepared.

These tactics and ideas that felt uncomfortable to read may be necessary evils. Again in fairness, they likely are better than the alternative of not having these important conversations at all.

My Recommendation

I got tremendous value out of this book. I recommend Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations with Your Parents About Their Finances to anyone whose parents are still living or to anyone with kids of their own who want to start or improve these difficult conversations and learn how to take action once you do.

I’ll personally be buying a copy for my brother. Then I’ll ask him to pass it along to my parents when he’s done with it. Mom and dad, we need to talk some more.

Win A Copy

If you would like a free copy of the book, leave a comment below. I will select a winner on Wednesday 6/19.

You do not have to share any information publicly, but you will need to enter a valid email address so I can contact you to get your shipping information if you win a book.

If this is your first comment, it will not display until I moderate it. Please do not leave multiple comments.

Thank you and good luck!

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[Contributing Editor Chris Mamula used principles of traditional retirement planning, combined with creative lifestyle design, to retire from a career as a physical therapist at age 41. After poor experiences with the financial industry early in his professional life, he educated himself on investing and tax planning. Now he draws on his experience to write about wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement, and lifestyle design at Can I Retire Yet? Chris’ writing has been featured in MarketWatch, Doughroller, Business Insider and RockStar Finance. He is also the primary author of the forthcoming book Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. You can reach him at chris@caniretireyet.com.]

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About Virgie Powell

Virgie B. Powell writes for Reiterment Planning and Tax Advice sections in AmericaRichest.

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