Independent, Fee-Only Financial Advisor

Independent, Fee-Only Financial Advisor

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Priceless Knowledge

My dad will be 93 in August. Finally, he agreed to use his cane regularly since his balance and agility have suffered. Other than that, he manages fairly well. He still drives. He cooks. He handles his own finances… with a very tight fist!


Last year, my mother passed away. During her decline, I began questioning my father about their finances. I asked him for a list of assets and income. He said he’d give those to me, but he never got around to it. I needed those numbers to have discussions about their care and living arrangements, and I AM a financial advisor. It’s what I do, but I was having trouble helping my own family.


Every family is different, but most have a difficult time leaping from the all-knowing, all-providing parent to the new relationship that requires dependence on a grown child. Money is an intimate subject, and some families just aren’t good at broaching that subject. Some parents may be embarrassed by their lack of resources. Some may just be concerned about giving up control.


But broach it we must. Generally, I encourage clients with grown children to begin eking out details about their financial lives. The older the parent, the more important it becomes to share information. And maybe not all offspring need to know everything, but the full picture should be known by at least one person.


If you are the grown child of an aging parent, how do you encourage your parents to share financial information? Schedule a quiet time to talk. Don’t ambush them at Thanksgiving. Make it a time outside of the big family gathering. Tell them you want to learn about their situation and offer any help they may need. Give them time to gather details about all accounts. 


Whatever they put in front of you, keep your surprise to yourself. For many grown children, it’s a shock to see their blue-collar parents’ sizable portfolios. Yes, you may express admiration for their fiscal management. And you should probably make sure they understand the purpose of those funds is to care for themselves, not to leave money to family. But, of course, they will still want to do that.


And if the list is meager, be calm and straightforward. Their funds may limit their choices in old age, and everyone should be realistic. Get educated about assistance options—Medicaid, Veteran’s Benefits, etc. The better you are at researching options and processing forms, the better off they’ll be. Don’t assume assistance will happen automatically. Somebody has to make it happen, and it will probably be you.


My dad finally gave up the list. Opening the door allowed us to have honest discussions about what would be best for him. I think it was a relief for him to finally share that information. I know it was a relief for me as we began planning for the “what’s next” part of his life. He went through the legal paperwork to name me as power of attorney. He began consolidating and simplifying his accounts.


This week, we moved him into assisted living. After my mother’s death, he recognized the risks of living alone. A minor fall shocked him into action. He also recognized the need for more social interaction. Because I knew his financial situation, I could help with this transition knowing it was sustainable. He’s still paying his own bills and handling all his own financial decisions, but I know he’ll be okay. That knowledge is priceless.