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How should I discuss my parents’ finances with them?

For some reason, talking about money tends to be one of the more touchy subjects with family. Of course, parents should talk about money with their children from an early age, but adults should also reach out to their parents, especially seniors, about their financial situation. After all, it’s you or your siblings who will most likely be responsible for your parents’ well-being while they are alive, and ultimately for their estate and financial affairs after they are gone—or sooner, if mental decline enters the picture.

Initiate this conversation with a plan and a proper attitude, knowing it’s not an easy subject. You may want to hint at this topic a bit before diving into it so it’s not a surprise. You may even use your own life situation as a conversation starter, such as, “I’m thinking about having some estate planning done; have you guys gone through that process?” You should get to know what experiences your parents have had and what processes they have in place to handle financial matters. Chances are those processes will be different from what you would do, but if it works for them, that’s all that matters. It’s not about changing their habits so much as learning what is important to know and trying to be helpful.

This conversation isn’t set up, completed and finished. It’s an ongoing process that you want to be involved with as time goes on. It’s also a topic that should include any siblings as are appropriate. If your parents have been especially quiet about their financial affairs but look well off, they may be embarrassed that their financial accounts aren’t holding up as well as their lifestyle appearance. This may not be their fault either, as seniors increasingly have been victims of fraud. If you are the fallback plan, it’s best to know sooner rather than later.

You need to find out specific information. Are there sufficient financial resources to last the rest of your parents’ lives even if one or both need skilled care at some point? If not, what’s the contingency plan? Have they had a financial plan run to answer this question? Are there wills? Have these been updated recently enough? Get details of any powers of attorney or advance health-care directives.

You want to know about any debt obligations, as well as sources of income, including details of any survivor benefits from pensions or annuities. If you don’t have much expertise in financial matters, you should have a financial advisor you can turn to for guidance.

If there is no concern of a shortfall, because your parents have a very large estate, have they had their trust and estate documents reviewed recently? Who is the attorney and where are the documents? Are there life insurance policies that need continued payments to stay in force? Where are all the important documents kept? Who are your parents’ trusted advisors, and where are all the accounts? Is all this important information compiled in a workbook in a known location, preferably not in a safety deposit box?

While going down this path of discovery with your parents: If you learn there are shortcomings, especially with powers of attorney or medical directives, insurance for long-term care or other assets, know that it is in your best interest to help your parents start to fill the holes. At least introduce them to someone who can help. Life events that range from “somewhat-likely-to–happen” up to “inescapable” really need a plan. If that plan doesn’t include you, then who?

Marie A. Moore is a financial advisor with the Wealth Management division of Morgan Stanley in Dallas, Texas. The views expressed herein are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC. Member SIPC., Morgan Stanley Financial Advisor(s) engage Worth to feature this profile. Marie A. Moore may only transact business in states where she is registered or excluded or exempted from registration, Transacting business, follow-up and individualized responses involving either effecting or attempting to effect transactions in securities, or the rendering of personalized investment advice for compensation, will not be made to persons in states where Marie A. Moore is not registered or excluded or exempt from registration. Certified Financial Planner of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and federally registered CFP (with flame design) in the U.S. CRC1677319 01/17.

Family Matters

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