How to Have a Financial Checkup With Your Aging Parents
“To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors.”
I never thought I would write this or be adult enough to have a discussion with my parents about finances, but it happened and it's been happening folks. I feel like the more I talk about money, the more comfortable I am getting and the more people around me are also getting comfortable talking about it. If you need some pointers, check out this recent article from NYTimes: We're All Afraid to Talk About Money: How to Break the Taboo.
I've mentioned this before that growing up, we didn't really talk about money that often. I think a huge part of that is culture. Filipino culture doesn't make it easy to bring up money issues at the dinner table. There's also this sense that you are always a child regardless of how old you are. My parents shielded my sisters and I from a lot of money worries. This was their way of protecting us. All well and good, but we are adults now and it's time to share the burden.
As children, even if we are adults now, we may not feel it's our place to talk to our parents about money, but it's time we re-think that. You see, many of us will most likely have to provide for our parents at one point or another and understanding where finances stand today will go along way to creating a plan.
Schedule a Financial Checkup
First thing's first is to schedule a financial checkup. This requires people actually getting together for this sole purpose. Put a date down on the calendar where your siblings (sans spouses) and parents can spend time to discuss the finances. This will be an eye-opening experience if you've never spoken to your parents about finances. This may be the time you find out that they have lots of savings which ultimately means no worries for you or the time you find out that you will need to help them. Either way, better to know this now than later so that a bit of planning can get started.
I always add this sentence whenever we talk about money that there is no shame, or blame, just move forward. For many of us, including our parents, have done the best they could given the information available to them at the time. Sure things could be better, more money could be saved, but there's no use dwelling on the what-ifs.
Questions to Ask:
What are your plans for retirement? Do you have a time frame for when you want to retire? Will you be retiring at the same time?
What are your long-term housing plans? Will you be selling the house, moving abroad or moving into senior housing? How can we help you plan for this?
Have you checked your Social Security status? Do you meet the requirement to receive a benefit?
Do you have a will in place? What happens to your assets should something happen to you? What do you want us to do with your assets?
Who has been named Power of Attorney? (This is important if you have multiple siblings or other trusted family member that someone is assigned this responsibility.)
Is there a Health Proxy in place? What are your wishes when it comes to health/life decisions?
What are your goals for retirement? Will you be able to reach them given what you have now?
You may come up with other questions along the way, write them down and bring them up. Don't take no for an answer when it comes to getting this financial checkup date scheduled. Make sure all siblings are in the loop. We should be caring for our parents in the same way they cared of us. There's too many stories out there of older adults struggling to make ends meet because their children won't help them.
Know Their Goals
Do you know your parents goals in retirement? Seem strange to ask that question, but yes, our parents didn't work their butts off for 40 years to just sit around. Get to know your parents goals in retirement? Will they be traveling? Would they want to visit you often wherever you are in the world? Do they want to volunteer somewhere? It is important to show your support as they transition into a different life.
Once you know their goals, you'll also be able to understand if they have the means to do so or if you will need to step in to help them achieve theirs. My parents goal has been to retire in the Philippines. They are now in the final stages of making that happen. It's something they talked about so it wasn't a surprised when they started filling out the paperwork and getting the house ready for sale.
Retirement can be a new lease on life for people. It's what they've waited for so long. Let's ensure that they can pursue something they love.
Help Them Check Their Social Security Status
I didn't realize this was even possible, but you can check your Social Security status online. I just recently did this exercise when I was doing the Lifetime Wealth Ratio calculation, but in this case, doing so on behalf of your parents will allow them to see their potential Social Security benefit. Knowing so allows them to plan retirement accordingly.
So how can you help them do this, well it's faster to check Social Security online and if you are a millennial or younger, you will be tech savvy so helping them establish a username/password will be easy for you. Log on yourself so that you are aware of the information that will be displayed.
Filing for Social Security is also easier and faster online so this may be where you come in to help them do this and navigate the long questionnaire that comes up for this process. Be patient here folks. Keep the login info so that you can help them check in on their application status when the time comes to file for benefits. Make sure your parents have access to their respective email accounts so that they can check status often.
Help Them Get Organized
There's always a lot of paperwork when you retire so help your parents get organized. Figure out where important documents are located. This may be the time to start a legacy binder that contains all important and relevant information about your parents and their finances.
Social Security requires paperwork relating to identity which may include birth certificates, Naturalization certificates, marriage license, etc. Keep these handy and easily accessible.
It's better to get organized before it's too late. Old age can come quickly. Information, documents and safe hiding places can get forgotten pretty quickly. Get ahead of this just in case. It will make life easier today and tomorrow.
This is also important if one parent has been designated the primary financial record keeper in the house. Will the other parent know where to find documents and information?
Documents to Consider:
Naturalization papers (for immigrants)
Other retirement statements, accounts and account numbers
Keys to a personal safety deposit box
Access to a Will
And so much more...
Know Their Health And Establish a Health Proxy
My mom was an ICU nurse for over 30 years and she has made it clear that if anything happens to her and my dad that we should be honest with ourselves about life extension. She has seen first hand, families doing what they can to save and prolong a loved one's life only to further push suffering on an aging parent or family member. She doesn't want to experience that so she's been hinting at making sure we don't do that to them.
Of course, I don't want to think about that kind of stuff now. I mean my parents seem healthy, but this is also another important area to dive into. How are your parents really doing in terms of health? Have they gotten their recent checkups? What kind of medicine are they taking? Are they listening to the advice of medical professional when it comes to exercise, nutrition and stress? We would like to think that our parents are invincible, but we all have to face the reality that this is not the case. Let's be prepared so that we aren't shock by medical news down the line.
Get to know the current state of your parent's health. Ask them often to see how they are doing health wise and any doctor visits they have coming up.
Understand Their Finances
It's equally important too to know what kind of expenses and income your parents will have as they age. Will this come purely from a pension or Social Security? What kind of expenses will be incurred? I know, it seems strange to be talking to our parents about budgets, but it's absolutely necessary. Many of us will be part of the "sandwich generation" needing to support our own children and our parents. This won't be easy, but it's possible with planning and some honest number crunching.
I hope that we all want the best for our family members and want to see our parent thrive into old age, but it still takes money to live so we need to be having these conversations.
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Review All Line Items
This will take time so also consider reviewing all of your parents statements for recurring charges or unknown charges. Automation is the key to setting aside savings, but it’s also the key to businesses making money. Take a look at credit card and bank statements and see what automatic charges are relevant. There may be some charges that have been recurring for years and are no longer unnecessary. This may be the time to question expenses, not in a shameful way, but in a genuine, do you what this charge is and is it necessary? Sometimes, getting fresh eyes on a set of statements can be enough to recognize savings potential.
Start the Decluttering Conversation
I’m adding this section because we’ve just gone through this process. One of the things that will need to happen with your parents is the beginning of the decluttering conversation. If your parents are like mine, they’ve lived in the same house for 23 year. Add to that 3 kids and the house that we grew up in accumulated lots of memorabila, home decor, furniture, etc. There is no hiding the fact that at some point, a decluttering and downsizing process will need to begin. It’s never too early to start this process or even seed the idea that this needs to happen. This may be a time to unburden your parents of the need to take care of stuff. This may be the time to sell excess items and use the proceeds to fund or invest in their retirement. We are so used to having stuff around, but at some point, someone will have to take care of that stuff. Better to start getting used to the idea that these items will need to be discarded sooner rather than later.
Protect Your Parents
Elder fraud is rampant. It's important to be aware that this happens and to start taking steps to reduce the chances of this happening. Best thing is to get involved and keep an eye out on your parents finances. Second best thing is to start protecting your parents information. Unsubscribe them from unnecessary emails and paper subscriptions. Doing so reduces their information from being shared to third parties. Set them up with secured electronic access to some of their financial info so that they can check their statements and documents often.
How to reduce sharing of information:
Submit a permanent Opt Out request to be removed from credit and insurance marketing
Get on the Do Not Call list
Unsubscribe from marketing emails
Never assume that just because your parents seem or are successful that their finances and documents are in order. Life happens and a few things may have slipped through the cracks while they were creating and living life. Let's also face reality that aging is an inevitable fact of life. Let's plan accordingly.
Thankfully my parents are in good health, but with a health scare for my mom earlier in the year and their retirement move to the Philippines, we've had to have the financial conversation early on. My sisters and I knew my parents wanted to retire in the Philippines but we didn't really get a sense of their plans so after much conversation, my sisters and I are now very comfortable about our parents moving to the Philippines and retiring there.
Have you recently sat down with your parents to discuss their finances? How did it go? Do you have any advice for those that are about to? Please leave them below in the comments.