Five Tips for Talking Money With Mom and Dad

December 17, 2014

by Michelle Perry Higgins


Follow these five steps when having the “finance talk” with your parents.  You don’t need to walk on eggshells or feel it is not your place to bring this subject up. I often see people wait too long or never have the talk at all, then when they should be mourning the loss of a loved one they are scrambling to find essential documents.  If you are the trustee of your parents’ estate, it is critical for you to have a strong handle on your their financial, estate planning and personal affairs.  A common response I hear in my practice is, “I don’t want to upset my parents by bringing up this topic,” or “My parents will think I am trying to take over their finances prematurely.” You can minimize problems by approaching the subject in a delicate, loving, and respectful manner.

1. Ask your parents to schedule a date and time to have this talk so you are not competing with Mom doing the dishes or Dad watching his favorite TV show.  I urge my clients to say something like, “I just met with my financial planner (or estate planner) and she brought up a few questions about my own estate that made me wonder if you also have these issues.  I would appreciate your insight on these issues and I also want to see if you need help in any of these areas. Can we sit down and talk about this on Tuesday at 6 p.m.?”

2. Don’t bring any distractions to this meeting (children, pets, friends) because it will only make the meeting more difficult to keep on track.  Keep the environment peaceful and quiet so you can easily get through your “to-do” list.

3. Come to the meeting with your “to-do” list.  Parents may try to get you off topic if the conversation becomes uncomfortable. If this happens, take note of these pressure points and move on to the next item on the list.  You can always come back to the previous item at another meeting.  There are financial/personal organizers you can purchase to guide your discussion or leave with your parents to complete. I would recommend that you fill one out first, so you can have it handy to share with them.

Here is a list of the items to document:

    • Personal information
    • Medical history
    • Important contacts
    • Insurance
    • Private security & access information
    • Income and cash equivalents
    • Pet information
    • Funeral arrangements
    • Document originals and copies
    • Estate planning documents
    • Letters to loved ones
    • Real estate
    • Personal property
    • Retirement and investments
    • Debt
    • Business ownership

4. Monitor your parents’ mood during this meeting.  If they get tired after 30 minutes or frustration builds, stop and schedule another meeting.  You need to realize that this process may take several meetings in order to get through the entire to-do list.  Don’t rush through this process.

5. Mark your calendar and review all the information again one year later.  Make any changes that may have occurred during the year and confirm the secured location of your parents’ organizer.