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Starting a conversation with your elderly parents

In a recent post, we discussed why it's important to talk to parents about aging and finances as they approach their later years. That blog also provided some guidance about preparing for those often-difficult conversations.

This blog gives you some pointers for getting the conversation rolling and includes ideas for questions you may wish to ask.

It's okay to be awkward

Many adult children worry that they will come across as money-hungry or prying when they ask their parents about their estate planning, current financial situation or health. When asking probing questions -- no matter your motivation -- it's okay to let your feelings show.

If you feel awkward talking to mom or dad about personal issues, that's okay. It is far better to have an emotional and embarrassing chat than to wait until a crisis arises or it is too late.

Both you and your parents may be dreading this conversation. Getting it done can provide relief on both sides.

Conversation starters

You probably know better than anyone does about how to broach difficult subjects with your parents. Maybe they asked you hard questions as you were growing up that gave you ideas about how to start. If you are still stuck, you may want to try some of these conversation starters:

  • "Do you have some things you want to accomplish in the coming year? How can I help you do them?"
  • "What advice can you give me about how to prepare for retirement?"
  • "I don't want to pry, but are there plans you have for later that I should know about?

You don't have to come to any decisions during your initial conversation, unless there is a crisis. It may be enough to merely open the door to future conversations for now.

Questions to ask

Once you get the conversation started or have opened the door to future talks, need answers to generally fall into a handful of categories:

  • Ability to care for themselves and their home: Can they hear the phone ring? Do they need help with yard work or cooking?
  • Mobility within their home: Are steps in the house getting too difficult to traverse? Are there modifications that could make staying in their home easier?
  • Transportation needs: Can they drive themselves to doctor appointments or the grocery store? Are they able to see family and friends as often as they want?
  • Finances and bill paying: Are they having difficulty managing or affording their bills? Are they receiving all the government benefits to which they are entitled?
  • Health concerns and insurance: Do they forget to take prescriptions? Is insurance covering all of their medical expenses? When were their last physicals with their treating doctors?

Of course, obtaining answers is only the first step. If your parents need help putting their affairs in order, like establishing a power of attorney, health care directive or estate plan, consult a professional who can provide guidance.

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