Grandmothers and grandchildren have a lot in common. They are inclined to straggle behind on walks. They doze off at unexpected moments. They like fancy cakes. They are very fond of cats and know how to talk to them. They are given to falling over. They get the giggles. —Pam Brown, from the Hallmark book “The Love Between Grandmothers & Grandchildren”
Talking about finances with some of our much-loved seniors is easier said than done. Many of today’s elders, still, are pre-Freud. They are horrified by the suggestion of talking to anyone about things that trouble them. In their time, if they had problems, they kept a “stiff upper lip” and detested whining. They learned to make the best of it and look on the bright side. This sense of privacy and of what is proper for sharing extends to money matters. Many would rather call radio talk-show host Rick Edelman and pose some anonymous question about Revocable Living Trusts than talk five minutes with their children about their financial situation.
On the other hand we, their children, have been tutored by the customs of our own generation. Most of us are comfortable sharing almost everything, and we would like our parents to do the same. Especially if we can see a $300 per-day nursing home cost looming on the near horizon, and we have no earthly idea whether our parents have long-term care insurance, and sufficient monthly income to pay for it, or if they need Medicaid help.
As we ponder our own retirement, it may strike us that we don’t know anything about our parents’ situation. What are their plans for retirement? Do they have enough income to live on? Where are their records? Do they have long-term care insurance? Life insurance? Bank accounts? Stock accounts? A relevant AARP survey found that 68 percent of adults between the ages of 35 and 64 had never discussed these issues with their parents.
Asking these questions can seem downright nosy and interfering. However, if we don’t ask them now, we are likely to be trying to talk about such matters in a hospital waiting room during a family medical crisis. An article in Investor’s Business Daily suggests some ideas for broaching the subject without starting a family feud.
The article quotes Dan Kellogg, a well-known elder-law attorney, who said adult children have the most success when they make it clear they’re not probing into mom and dad’s finances because they believe they are protecting their own inheritance. It’s important to explain to your parents that you are concerned about their welfare—you want them to be well cared for not only during retirement, but in case of illness, and to help them preserve their assets from dissipation by taxes or costs for long-term care.
Another way is to discuss relevant articles from newspapers or magazines and ask if they agree with the premise, or ask them to clarify some point made by the article. Sometimes it’s helpful to repeat horror stories of badly handled assets, or lack of planning among the elderly, or to cite the positive or negative experiences of family or friends. Be sure to ask that simple question, “Who do you want to handle things if you can’t?”
Once you’ve reached agreement on how, if at all, you can support your parents with regard to their financial situation, you need to gather information from them. At the very least, you need to know where such information is located. Carol Abaya, a nationally syndicated columnist on aging issues, has written that her mother was so private that no one but her mother’s accountant and her late husband had known what their total income had been. Abaya said, “We had to hire private-duty nurses at $1,500 a week, and we did not know how to pay for it. It can be very scary not knowing what your parents’ resources are.”
IRAs and 401(k) plans, stock options, life insurance policies, savings and checking accounts and other cash sources are examples of the records that need to be analyzed. Be especially alert for any long-term care insurance. One of the best sources of information about assets is a person’s tax returns. Knowing the original cost of assets is an important tax planning tool. Investor’s Business Daily advises people to be on the lookout for U.S. Savings Bonds, saying that older people often purchased scores of these bonds, but haven’t kept up with them.
You should also be knowledgeable regarding your parents’ estate planning documents, such as wills, health care powers of attorney and general powers of attorney. Are such documents too old to be as helpful as they might be? You should know the names of your parents’ attorney, accountant and financial planner or tax adviser.
Longevity has improved so much that it now often encompasses multiple generations. The 38-year-old, with a family, is helping her 65-year-old mother care for her grandmother, age 96, now in a nursing home that costs $8,000-$10,000 a month. Planning ahead for all these events is one of the best things we can do. It is extremely helpful for decreasing stress when the actual time arrives for care giving.
Thanks for reading. Stay well. See you next week