My grandmother is 90 years old and lives in a nursing home. She worked her whole life and amassed a decent amount of wealth, only to have most of it drained away in her years in independent living, then assisted living, and now in a nursing home with dementia care.
It’s a familiar story, and one that we as adult children hope won’t be repeated with our own parents. We want our parents to be able to enjoy the money for which they’ve worked so hard – whether by taking trips while they’re able or gifting it to their grandchildren or any other group they choose.
But how can we even begin to broach this touchy topic with our parents? Stephanie Erickson, a social worker, family caregiving expert, and host of Caregivers’ Circle radio program, offers her insight.
1. Gather information.
To get the conversational ball rolling about helping your senior loved ones protect their financial assets, Erickson suggests starting with content that is unrelated to your family to provide emotional distance and make the discussion feel less threatening. You can talk about something that happened to a senior friend (e.g., moving to a care facility) or a story in the media (e.g., financial abuse from family members) to get your parents’ take on those situations. The goal here, says Erickson, is to find out how your parents feel about the topic of protecting their financial assets in general, which will give you information on how to proceed.
2. Take it slow.
Once you’ve started the conversation, give your parents time to process the issues in their own time. “This is not a one-time conversation,” says Erickson. “It’s a journey. Continue it little by little at a pace they’re comfortable with.” You can’t force your parents to do anything; you need to wait until they are ready to proceed. As she points out, “if you bulldoze over them, you’re less likely to receive information.”
3. Validate their feelings.
If your parents are resistant to discussing their finances with you, reflect their feelings back to them. Say something like, “I know it feels like I’m getting in your business – that must feel awkward,” suggests Erickson. You can be sensitive but direct by asking your parents what’s worrying them. “Try to understand why they are feeling blocked,” she says.
4. Be available.
If your parents are open to discussing their financial options with you, make yourself available for whatever they need, such as printing out online articles or giving them the names of a few good attorneys. “Be available to assist, not encroach,” reminds Erickson.
5. Talk about the grandkids.
It can be appropriate to have a conversation about your parents’ legacy, says Erickson, particularly if they have already expressed a desire to do something like help their grandkids with their education. If that is a priority to your parents, that can provide further motivation for them to take the necessary steps to protect their assets from a nursing home for the benefit of future generations.
6. Give them control.
It’s important to remember that all of this is not about you; it’s about them. In the end, your parents can do whatever they want with their money. Erickson suggests you put your own needs aside to respect your parents’ wishes, whatever they may be. Don’t give your parents the impression that you’re trying to get their money or take control of their life. The opposite should be true – you’re having these conversations to help your parents retain control of their assets while they are still able. Erickson suggests saying something like, “I would hate for you to lose control of all that you’ve worked for. There are documents that we can put in place so that no one can go against your word.”
7. Manage your own discomfort.
Though Erickson recognizes that these conversations can be difficult and uncomfortable, it’s important that we set our own desires aside for the good of our parents. If we’re nervous about the conversations, our parents can pick up on the tension and feel pressured. Perhaps your parents are even making choices that you wouldn’t make yourself, but that’s their prerogative. “This is not about your own ideas, opinions, and values,” she says. “It’s about theirs.”
Chime in: How have you broached the touchy topic helping your senior loved ones protect their financial assets?