The Love Letter: Talking to Parents About Financial Concerns

Women today are in the sandwich generation, trying to balance the needs of their own families as well as their parents. But not much has changed over the years.

When my grandmother became ill years ago, it was my mother who took care of her. In her late 60s herself, mom put her own needs and the needs of her family aside to help my grandmother during the last years of her life. Finally she had to make the gut-wrenching decision to admit her mother into a nursing home, where my grandmother eventually passed away at age 96.

Many children know little, if anything, about their parents’ finances. What are their sources of income, what plans do they have if they need health care assistance in the future?  And many of them don’t know how to open that dialogue.

Conversation is the key, but if you are uncomfortable talking about it, perhaps you can do what a client of mine did. Write a love letter to your parents. Here’s an excerpt from the letter she wrote to her divorced mother:

Dear Mom,

With all the big changes that have been going on in our lives, from college graduation to marriages, we realize, more clearly than ever before, how critical it is to plan life’s events and be as ready as possible to embrace them.

While I know that conversations about finances and aging and final wishes are very private and emotional, I greatly desire to have a more open dialogue with you about your plans. For example, I’d like to talk about things such as: Are your sources of income stable? Are they enough to keep up with inflation? What if you have a major medical crisis?

Believe me, I don’t mean to be nosy, but as you learned when Grandma needed financial support to ensure her well being in an assisted living center, a parent’s financial status does become a daughter’s business, sooner or later.

The biggest reason of all to have a conversation is that I want you to know that I am here for you, as you have been for me over the years, and I want us both to be prepared for the future.

What a loving way to broach a sensitive subject. My client closed her letter by suggesting that she and her mother schedule an appointment with a financial adviser. Even if you have a firm grasp of financial planning issues, you may still overlook several key areas or lack the expertise to manage financial assets and accounts in the most effective way. Meeting with an experienced financial planner can help ensure that you won’t be caught off guard in the event of a family crisis.

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