Sadly, Americans do not like talking about money. Taboo is taboo. This is especially true for adults who are now in their middle ages and are concerned about the well-being of their parents.
The fact that you are reading this article is a clear sign you understand what's at stake. No one likes surprises when it comes to money. I'm sure you've heard the horror stories from friends, “So and so's parents passed away, and they never created a will!” or, “My parents just dropped the bombshell on us that they are out of money, and Social Security is no longer enough to cover their medical bills.”
Bottom line, we all understand that talking about money with our elders is crucial to our financial well-being. To help you tackle that first meeting, here's a list of nine tips.
1. DO take action and initiate the conversation.
First thing first, you need to get that meeting on the books. A crucial mistake Americans make is they think the easiest path to success is to just bring up the conversation at the next family gathering. "I'll catch Mom and Dad while they are cleaning dishes after dinner." Good idea, right? Reality check: even during dish time, conversations get interrupted. That said, dish time may be that quiet, private opportunity to ask to meet the following week.
2. DO find a comfortable place to talk.
If you make it past step one and achieve success in getting your parents to commit to a sit-down, don't recommend a coffee shop or other public spot. They will be most comfortable in their own home, and, pending you are within driving distance away, that's where you should meet them.
3. DO NOT arrive armed for war.
Nothing will shut down the conversation faster than arriving at your first family meeting about money with printed brokerage statements, spreadsheets, and reports. Instead, bring a sheet of paper with the open questions you'd like to ask (a small notebook works too) and a pen. Show your blank pages, so they can see that you are truly there for a casual, open conversation.
4. DO listen.
Whatever they say, listen sincerely, maintain eye contact, and only write down the important facts. For example, the name of their financial advisor, or if they've ever attended a free steak dinner with an "investment consultant" (hopefully they left with just a full stomach and not a signed annuity contract).
5. DO NOT pry.
If you get push back on something sensitive, then this is a tell-tale signal that you are pushing too hard, too fast. "I don't want to talk about that, okay?" Don't let this kill your crusade. Remember, just having a conversation is a massive step in the right direction.
6. DO keep it simple.
Keep it casual and start with the easy stuff. Maybe the first question is simple, "Do you have a brokerage account where your money is held?" or "Do you currently work with a financial advisor?" or "Do you have a will?" Don't start with, “How much money do you have in your retirement account?”
7. DO stay calm.
As you progress through the conversation, you may hit gold and uncover some deep secrets. At the same time, this newfound information may make you want to scream at the top of your lungs, "HOW COME YOU NEVER TOLD ME THIS?!" Don't do that! Practice your poker face beforehand, promise yourself to stay calm, and rehearse saying, "That's interesting, tell me more."
8. DO volunteer to hire an independent professional.
In the financial planning industry, there is a running joke that being a financial advisor is 90% psychologist and 10% actual financial planning. The more seasoned the advisor, the more experienced they are at having money talks. If you make some headway, but your folks aren't comfortable getting into the actual numbers, then recommend hiring an hourly-based financial planner to sit down with everyone. For example, the XY Planning Network website makes it easy to filter hourly-based fiduciary advisors by location.
9. DO NOT think, "One and done."
If you succeed in getting a meeting and then having your parents open up about their financial situation, that is a massive milestone. Don't push things too far. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither are wills, estates, trusts, financial plans, or emergency plans. If the conversation is going great, then take advantage of the positive sentiment to schedule a follow up meeting for the week after. Alternatively, if you find little success, that's okay too. Offer to "do some research" and get back to them later.
Discussing finances with loved ones doesn't have to be dreaded. With the right strategy, it can be a breakthrough for you and your entire family. It all starts with that first conversation.
Here at investor.com, we help tens of thousands of Americans each month assess their current financial advisors as well as find a new financial advisor. Transparency goes a long way toward invoking action. Use the search bar atop this page to search financial advisors or advisory firms by name. Similarly, type in your city to compare advisory firms near you.
We'd love to hear from you about your journey. What tips worked or didn't work for you? How is money related communication with your parents today? Send your suggestions or story to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll be compiling responses for a future post.
Perhaps you are looking for tips for talking to your spouse or someone you are dating. Or, maybe, you are trying to break through with a sibling and approach your parents together. Regardless of your situation, here are some additional articles that may be helpful: