Starting the Conversation
Money is not a common topic discussed by most families, but if you're concerned about your parents' financial security, now is the time to get it on the table. With good planning and frank conversations, many parents will be able to continue managing their own affairs with guidance or assistance from you or a professional advisor.
Set the Stage with Small Steps
Don't try to launch into a full financial audit with your parents on day one. Respect the family roles that you've established, and don't try to break the child/parent mold immediately. Instead, start small. Create credibility by sharing your experiences and financial planning process with your parents. Use examples from your own life as a way to start talking to them as peers. If they're looking for your help and see the benefit of planning together, they will start to share their experiences and concerns as well.
If your parents are still comfortably managing their financial affairs, you can limit your discussion to a summary of the planning they have done, exchanging the names of your respective financial advisors and attorneys, and sharing copies of your wills and estate documents.
Early warning signs that your parents' bills aren't being paid are checks that go uncashed, calls from creditors, and piles of mail that go unopened. Offer to help them check their credit report online at
When to Take Control
If your parents are clearly not managing their finances well or if they've asked for help, resist the urge to drop your own finances and obligations too hastily. If you're dealing with an immediate financial matter, tend to it and then start thinking of your new role as managing the broad family finances. In your new role, you're managing your affairs and your parents' together, rather than two separate family situations. Losing sight of your own finances while helping them will hurt your future security and could make you resentful. Managing both situations as a broader project where neither takes priority will help you recognize when you need outside help.
I don't have time to pay my own bills. How am I supposed to find time to pay my mom's too?
Have mom list out her bills and set up as many as you can for auto-pay or direct billing. If there are too many, or you need closer followup, hire a licensed, bonded bill-paying service.
Professionals to the Rescue
Just like you, your parents need a financial planner, attorney, and accountant for financial, legal, and tax advice. Follow the guidelines in Chapter 18 for help finding and selecting a suitable professional. If your parents needs advice about transferring their assets or giving you legal authority to manage their finances directly, you should talk to an elder law attorney. A geriatric care manager can advise you on issues related to disability, failing health, and health care choices. A personal financial organizer or bookkeeper can help with day-to-day money management. Check Appendix B for links to help find referrals to the professionals.
Don't hesitate to take advantage of free and low-cost resources your parents may be eligible for. Take the National Council on Aging benefits checkup at