So your parents don’t want to talk about money.

Search the internet, and you’ll find reams of material written about discussing family finances between generations, but it’s almost always from the perspective of an affluent parent or grandparent wondering when and how to reveal the extent family’s wealth to a young person.

Or the stories about the $30 trillion to $70 trillion that will pass to the Millennial generation alone, never mind other generations, over the next few decades. This will quintuple the wealth currently held by Millennials, making them the richest generation in history. Entire segments of the financial and technology industries are pivoting to serve this wealth transfer

Just what do mom and dad have in mind for their savings? Have they really made plans to age and what resources will be used to provide for that? Do I know what support they will need from me where they to become incapacitated and not able to manage their financial or medical affairs?

If you, like so many in the younger three generations in the workforce, that is, Generation X, Y (or Millennials) and Z, find yourself asking these questions wanting to know how your parents are organized, or even more crucially, whether an aging parent may be looking to you for caregiving and/or financial support, there’s very little advice out there on how to break the ice and get the ball rolling.

And it can seem daunting to approach a parent asking them about their money. It might feel like tip-toeing through a minefield—there are lots of ways to get stuck trying to talk about this. It’s doubly difficult because you’re not only dealing with your own emotions and anxiety about the future, but you’re also raising issues that stir your parents’ emotions and anxieties and that touch on the fact of their own mortality.

Older Generations Talk Less About Money

In older generations, especially in the generations who survived the Great Depression, like the Silent Generation, sometimes called “The Greatest Generation,” discussions about money were often taboo, and many Baby Boomers inherited these traits—they aren’t willing to share a lot, because their parents didn’t do it with them either.

As people age, they start to wake up in the morning with the hope that nothing has really changed from the day before. No wonder aging family members might be hesitant to share their financial information, or to talk about what might happen if they experience a decline in health or cognition!

But it’s a conversation we must have. Currently, approximately 8-in-10 retirees at age 65 will need some form of nursing care as they age, according to Sept. 2021 research from Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research.  Because of advances in medical care, better nutrition and quality of life, there’s a higher probability that parents will be incapacitated in some way prior to their death. Not to mention that, in an age of pandemics and over-filled intensive care units, there’s no telling what the future holds for the healthcare and financial needs of ourselves and our loved ones.

We also need to keep in mind that nursing home rooms and private in-home care are both extremely expensive and not covered by health insurance or paid for by Medicare unless assets are depleted. Caretaking by a spouse or a child can be excruciating both physically and emotionally.

At any age, I think we can relate to how intrusive it may feel to reveal financial information. For some people it’s akin to revealing intimate details and truths. There may be some fear of how you might react. I also think we can all relate to feeling uncomfortable, when talking about our death or a decline in our health, or talking about the distribution of our assets after death. It’s not exactly a pleasant topic, I observed that most people are avoidant about it—it’s like insurance, who really wants to think about the day they might need their insurance?

Taxes Can Open The Door to This Important Conversation

I think that income taxes are a good icebreaker to use with parents. Start talking to parents—or grandparents—about how to help organize the family finances so that it is not so confusing around tax time. Offer to help make things easier for them to manage.

That offer naturally leads to deeper discussions, like where are all the statements? Does the accountant have everything they need to prepare a tax return? What might be missing?

Ask permission to speak to their accountant to find out how you can help, that’s also a good idea that may serve as an entry point to deeper conversations about the family finances.

When it comes to talking about a parent’s estate, start by asking where they keep copies of their living will or advance directives and durable power of attorney for health care matters. Ask them about their wishes, like if they have signed a DNR or do-not-resuscitate order.  Are you an appointed power on the documents?  Ask them if they’ve provided copies of these documents to all of their physicians, and if you might be able to have copies of your own.

While it may seem to be a challenging conversation to have, at some point you may find yourself making these decisions on your parents’ behalf. It will be easier for everyone involved if you are aware of their medical wishes, and having the documents on hand will help ensure that caregivers follow your parents’ directives.

Other Entry Points

Asking about a durable power of attorney for financial matters is another entry point. Are you named as an appointed power to be a decision-maker for an incapacitated parent or grandparent? These responsibilities may be split between one person with power of attorney for health care matters, and another with power of attorney for financial matters. Having these documents offers the opportunity to discuss their preferences for appointed powers.

You might also ask for a family meeting with all of the children present to talk about appropriate care and responsibilities while aging before becoming incapacitated, which may also open the door to talking about decisions around financial asset distribution after death.

As uncomfortable as it might seem, talking about family finances is an important responsibility that is best fulfilled when all parties have had the time to think about the appropriate roles for each family members and to communicate these thoughts to each other, rather than making decisions on the fly in a crisis situation.