“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12
By Ron Dorner
The investments of most Americans have taken a significant dive in the past year. Those of us with older parents have that haunting feeling that if we are wrestling with the impact of that downturn on our own assets, then our elderly parents may also be struggling or may even need assistance.
Typically, parents do not disclose financial matters to their adult children. After all, they are, and have been, the parent. What is a child to do?
As we live longer and finances become more complex, an interesting intergenerational event is becoming more prevalent. Some will find their younger married children struggling financially at the same time they have a growing concern for their elderly parents. If you are in this situation, welcome to the “sandwich generation.”
It is important to be aware of ways to carry out the biblical mandate to honor your father and mother.
Over the years, I have observed that individuals have a greater propensity toward simplicity as they age. Often, I will describe various estate planning tools that a couple in their late 70s or 80s could use to save their estate significant sums of money, only to have them say, “Thank you very much, but we don’t think we would care to do that.” The hunger for simplicity has prevailed over rational thinking. This is true because even I am noting that in myself, to some degree and I am only in my late 60s. Why mention this? If you have parents in their late 60s or older, they may not be able to make good financial decisions.
Often there is total silence between parents and children regarding personal finances. It is never too early to begin discussions about this topic. You may find your parent(s) in one of three situations:
- Totally unprepared financially.
Prepared but at an age where it is becoming more difficult to monitor and make necessary decisions.
Prepared with procedures in place to provide for their needs if they are unable to care for their finances.
Until you know the situation, you will not be able to be of assistance. Realize that you may not have the knowledge to assist your parents. If that is the case, establish a communication link with your parents and engage a financial planner.
The first step in breaking the financial silence is to ask probing questions. The answers can reveal your parent’s situation. Ask questions like:
- Sally and I are thinking about saving for the kid’s education. What approach would you recommend?
- I find it hard to save money. How did you do it?
- I have been thinking of buying stocks. What do you think about that?
- Sally and I are doing estate planning and we need to decide whether to make a will or a trust. What are your thoughts?
- Joe and I are thinking about planning for our future financially. Do you know someone who is a good financial planner?
- Sally and I just completed legal documents for someone to handle our finances if there is an emergency. Do you have those kinds of documents?
Questions of this nature are nonthreatening. They will help you understand the level of skill and knowledge your parents have regarding finances and help you act accordingly.
Should you find indications that your parents need help, gradually ask can-I-help questions. The parent may be hesitant to admit he or she can no longer do something, like balancing a checkbook. Sample questions include:
I just got my new Medicare and You booklet. I read the changes for the year and was wondering if you would like me to show you some of the changes that will affect your visits to the doctor?
I just read some good tips on how to prevent someone from stealing your identity. May I share some of them with you?
Telephone salesmen are driving us crazy! I read that you should never buy over the phone unless you initiate the call. We are going to make that our practice. What do you think about that?
If the parent continues to resist talking about his or her finances, a sibling conference might be in order. When a parent is confronted by more than one child, he or she may be more open to seeking help.
Pray about the situation. Convey to your parent that you want him or her to remain as financially independent as possible, but you are willing to help if and when assistance is needed.
Ron Dorner is director of Biblical Money Management. BMM has been helping believers handle their finances and estate planning since 1984. Online counseling is available at www.BiblicalMoneyManagement.com.