Practical Tips for Money Conversations With Your Parents

By Amanda N. Wegner

As women, we often find ourselves at the intersection of numerous responsibilities — caring for our families, pursuing personal and professional goals and tending to the never-ending tasks of daily life. For many women, another undertaking — and necessity — is discussing financial matters with aging parents. And these aren’t always easy or comfortable conversations.

Souphaphone Maddox, formerly a private wealth advisor who is now a financial consultant, acknowledges these can be challenging discussions.

These talks, she says, can be difficult for numerous reasons: generational discomfort with discussing finances; a lack of confidence in one’s ability to manage finances; and not wanting to feel judged. And for those with a great deal of wealth, there may be a hesitancy to share their financial situation out of the fear that a future inheritance may disincentivize their children from working hard to build their own wealth.

In her experience helping clients and families, Maddox has developed an approachable guide to initiate financial conversations with parents. In utilizing these guide points, Maddox emphasizes, “It’s a long journey — not a one-and-done conversation.”

USE REAL STORIES

A natural and helpful way to initiate these conversations is to use stories and examples from your parent’s life.

“It’s important to lead with stories, not just what-ifs — and there are enough real stories to share,” says Maddox. An example would be a friend who is dealing with a health challenge, or a family member who is hospitalized. Situations such as these emphasize how crucial it is to have financial affairs in order. “It showcases the importance when you can use real stories,” adds Maddox.

If your parent is hesitant to open up, start smaller, leading with questions about topics that might impact their life, such as Medicare coverage, which is constantly changing. Another lead-in might be your own experience with a phishing email or the latest consumer scam in the news.

“Those are the little things to [help them] open up and get some nuggets to further conversation.”

COME FROM A PLACE OF COLLABORATION

Let your parent know that this is about understanding and respecting their financial wishes. Offer help, but avoid telling them what they should or shouldn’t do.

“No one likes being told what to do. If you do, they will shut down,” says Maddox. “Come from a place of collaboration, not talking at them.”

BE DIRECT AND CANDID

Be open and share your own financial story and experience.

“In this conversation, be direct. For instance, I tell my mom, ‘I’m OK financially. I don’t need you to take care of me. There’s no judgment.’”

Knowing you’re OK, says Maddox, can help move the conversation.

IT’S NOT ABOUT NUMBERS

When discussing financial matters with parents, it’s not about the numbers. Instead, you want to learn their wishes, what they have in place and where you need to look should something happen.

“You don’t need specific amounts or their full net worth. What you need is contact information for their financial accounts, such as their retirement accounts, bank accounts and credit cards,” says Maddox. “If they can even give you that information in a handwritten list, you at least know where to go if anything happens.”

LEAD WITH EMPATHY

Finances can be a very personal topic, so don’t take it personally if your parent hesitates to open up or provide information.

“No matter their response, try to understand and empathize where they’re coming from,” says Maddox. “Leading with empathy and compassion can help open up the lines of communication. It just might take some time.”

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