Talking about money with an elderly parent is not easy. With more than 10,000 baby boomers turning age 65 every day, most have experienced the emotional trauma of losing a family member. Adding to this pain is the tedious difficulty of settling a loved one‟s financial affairs once they are gone or incapacitated, and this is like putting salt on a wound.
Jane Client, a 58 year old business owner and mother, is a prime example. We met through an introduction from her CPA and she was now trying to make sense of their family’s financial web after the death of her father. It came as a total surprise to learn that she and her mother were beneficiaries of a substantial trust and now Jane was in my office trying to deal with a problem she felt ill-prepared for. The most terrifying part for her- she had to talk about money with her mom.
Jane’s mother was of the “Greatest Generation” and that meant all finances were left to her husband. Jane wasn’t even sure if her mother knew what she owned, who managed it, or what they were getting charged! “Dad taught me to make smart decisions by asking questions, but the trouble is, I don’t even know how to talk to mom about money. She just smiles and says that “everything will be alright”! It drives me crazy how she does that!
Fortunately, Davis Solie’s book, “How to Say it To Seniors,” offers helpful insight into the thought process of our aging loved ones, and poses several solutions as to how Jane can bridge this communications gap. Solie brings to light the need of seniors to maintain control of aspects of life in the face of almost daily losses of strength, health, friendships, and mental capacity. For seniors another concern is the discovery of their own legacy, and how they want to be remembered after they are gone.
Solie suggests that a proper approach to Jane’s questions might be phrased in a way that values the decisions made by her parents, and provides the opportunity for her mother to conduct an important step in her “life review” process at the same time. For instance, initiating a conversation such as this, “Mom, we’ve been discussing the idea of getting our finances in order like you and dad. How did you go about selecting your advisors? What were the steps he took you though in planning? What were the important considerations you had in designing the plan?”
In pursuing a series of open-ended questions like this, you are granting your mom authority and acknowledging her success and control of her financial situation. Further, it gives her the ability to pass along her wisdom and experience to the younger generation, increasing her feeling of self-worth.
Solie does caution the reader not to expect immediate results. It is important to allow seniors to reach decisions at their own pace, and to remain “flexible and patient” once we have planted the seed of a decision. If done properly by actually addressing the question with mom has many potential benefits, whether or not she eventually agrees with the final decision. The conversation that ensues, and the ability for mom to reflect on important decisions and share what she has learned with her daughter is a powerful tool. In the case of Jane, the potential benefits of discussing her family‟s financial issues can even lead to a greatly improved relationship. What could possibly be a better legacy than that?
Mike McCormick is a licensed Wealth Advisor with Cascade Financial Management, Inc. He can be reached at www.mccormickinvestmentadvisor.com or 406-219-3984.