Talking about money with your family is hard, especially between different generations. The topic can be charged with emotional and control issues. It can also lead to the discovery that something different needs to be happening.
My spouse and I have been prying that particular conversational door open with our adult children and their spouses for several years now in our annual family meeting, but not a whisper of talk has been planned with the oldest member of our family – my spouse’s 90 year old Mom.
There are four siblings – 2 in their 60’s, 1 in their 50’s and one in their 40’s. My in-laws and their children were a hard working lower middle class family unit. Their Dad passed away 7 years ago and their Mom has been in a senior home for the past 4 years. It’s a pretty expensive place and she loves it there, but all 4 kids are wondering how long it will be before Mom presents them with a financial crisis and call for financial help with the monthly rent. Mom doesn’t share her financial situation and is still in total control of it all, in spite of having enormous difficulty seeing due to macular degeneration.
With such an obvious need for the siblings to understand the financial situation of this greatest generation member, they continue to postpone having that discussion. Why is that?
Many of us fear having the money discussion with our parents. Here are my thoughts on the fears we have.
Fear of angering parents.
No matter how old we become, parents still command a large and powerful presence in our lives. We may think that we have moved past our childhood dependence on pleasing our parents, but in reality, we still want to do so. Bringing up the subject of parental finances – especially with a generation not open to that particular discussion – may make our parents mad….. at us…. for daring to:
- question their competence
- be nosy about what they have
- appearing to try to get their money from them.
Fear of what we may find out.
Even if your parents may be open to that discussion, many of us might fear the results of the conversation.
Are Mom and Dad behind in their house payment and the house about to be re-possessed? Are they surviving on beans and rice because they don’t have enough money? Are they spending or giving away that inheritance we thought we might get?
Fear of having to deal with consequences.
As long as we are blissfully ignorant of what help Mom and Dad may need, our conscious is clear. Once we find out that they are having trouble paying bills, meeting expenses, managing their accounts or dealing with unscrupulous sales people, we can no longer ignore that nagging little voice inside that says we are supposed to help them, that we need to take some responsibility to make things work.
What if our parents really don’t have enough money to live? How will we manage to take that on in addition to our own financial burdens?
What if our parents need us to handle their day to day finances? How can we do that with all of the other tasks in our busy day?
Fear of siblings thinking you are trying to get parents money.
Usually one of the siblings in the family will end up taking the lead on having the money talk and resolving the situation. That sibling runs the risk of having her brothers and sisters think she is trying to get more than her fair share of the parental assets.
Fear the parents will judge our money aptitude or meddle or lecture us.
Especially if we haven’t demonstrated, beyond doubt, to parents and siblings that our own financial lives are in order, we may find that we are on the receiving end of lectures, disapproving looks and gossip about our own financial situations.
Parents may turn around and try to ‘help’ us out by offering unsolicited advice or trying to insert themselves somehow in our financial affairs. Siblings will question our ability to make things right for Mom and Dad and throw up roadblocks.
Just facing the fact that we may have these fears could allow us to conquer them and move forward. Everyone’s solution to conquering these fears is most likely different. What is yours?
What fears do you have about talking to your parents about money?
My mum is good with money, she saves a lot but she is missing out on opportunities for the lack of knowledge. She had a ton of money in cash and was still paying a mortgage, I took her to the bank to pay off the mortgage and she is so happy she is debt free now, but it took me a couple of hours to make her understand the savings and the logic behind it.
Role reversal is always hard and you did that when you taught mum this lesson.
Great job, Pauline. I’m sure she was smiling ear to ear not just for having paid off the mortgage but for having such a smart kid as well.
Marie! Interesting topic and well written. The last point resonates most with me. It really is none of my parent’s damn business what I do with my money. If we were in business together or I owed them money, I’d feel differently.
It is good that you are financially independent. It is awfully hard for parents to see their offspring struggling financially when they feel that a word or two from them could really help. Parents of adult offspring have well bled tongues!
With my parents its the knowledge they lack. My mom saves my step dad spends. She does a lot of saving but it doesnt end up accounting for much. Its not a fear anymore its the the realization that there is a 90% chance the wifey and I will be taking care of our parents. My parents dont ask about my money or what I do with it. They know I am good with money and trust me to make wise decisions.
Have you considered somehow trying to help them get that missing knowledge? Or is it that they lack the desire to obtain it….
I’m trying to get my parents to make a will. They live in Thailand and the whole thing is going to be hard to deal with. They have some properties and I have no idea what I’d with them…
That does sound hard, what with the potential for foreign laws to rule. Is it just you or do you have siblings? Maybe a conversation with siblings would help figure out how to approach the issue with parents.
I am SO glad you wrote on this topic. I’ve asked mentors and even my pastors about this.
My brother and I have sat my dad down once, as well as bringing it up off the cuff/non-confrontationally, to simply ask what he and my mom’s financial plan is. We’ve done this over the past 4-5 years. And each day he closes up, and gives us almost zero information. Other than that he has a plan, he’s got it covered.
His lack of details makes me feel pretty unsettled, and I don’t think my brother and I have the finances to take care of him and my mom for 20 years.
What are you thoughts on how to broach this subject with him again? Where should the conversation go if he doesn’t want to talk??
Try taking a look at the book “The M Word The Money Talk every family needs to have about wealth and their financial future by Lori R. Sackler.
I’m no expert but I’ve heard that some have luck by presenting it as a request for advice on your own finances and then using that as a springboard for a discussion. Sometimes it might feel to the parent as if you think he is not capable or you are being nosy or you want his money and etc. Perhaps a story about someone else’s parent who either shared or didn’t share their plans along with the consequences might help too. We started sharing ours in our family meeting and our daughter in law used that example to open the conversation with her parents. Again, I’m no expert.
I feared talking to my parents about money until they named me as executor when they were in their early 70s. I got the full picture of their well-planned retirement, assets, trust accounts, living wills, regular will, and how they wanted their stuff distributed after they passed on. I was very happy that they had the forethought to call that meeting. That was about 18 years ago. My father has passed on, but my mother still discusses her estate with me.
You are lucky! Being executor can be a real pain, but having well thought out plans sure does help!
Great post Marie! I think this is an issue that many of us are going to be facing more in the upcoming years as more Boomers start to retire. We face the issue of having one side of our family that is divorced which creates other issues. Of that side, one parent has remarried and is very wise with their finances and the other is a train wreck. We try to help, but it goes in one ear and out the other. The other set of parents, they tend to be wise with their money but do not have a will. We try what we can to encourage them to get one prepared, but it’s fruitless.
Divorce and remarriage can create many issues, especially if there are children from the first marriages to consider. Sometimes an estate plan is the only solution to those issues.
Important topic Marie! My Dad remarried after a divorce and has yet to make a will. It is an uncomfortable topic that my siblings and I have not approached my Dad about but will need to very soon.
Good luck. Help him out by educating yourself on options he could use? Things such as a trust to help him leave things to kids from prior marriages (or not…) and etc.