Q. My mother, a 90-year old widow, is in reasonably good health yet easily gets confused. She has always taken pride in managing her own finances, which she did very well. Every year, it’s been a battle for me to do her taxes, although this year she seemed more willing. How can I take on more financial responsibility without hurting her feelings, lessening her sense of purpose or making her feel incompetent? P.M.
A. Dear P.M.
The subject is a sensitive one. PBS reports that 54 percent of adults admit that they would rather talk to their kids about sex than their parents about aging. And the topic of money falls into that aging discussion.
Many ask, “When is the best time to have the talk about issues that many families want to avoid, such as finances?” One answer is the 40-70 rule developed by the Home Instead Senior Care Network. That means to begin those necessary conversations when the daughter or son is 40 and the parent is 70 years old. It’s best to be proactive before a crisis occurs, increasing the chances of making wise decisions without the pressures of stress and time.
Here are some tips that can move along the conversation:
Extend an invitation with love: Let your parents know you care, that your purpose is not one of control but to support them. Honor their pride and dignity.
Select the right time: Plan to set a time for a private talk. Parents visiting during holidays is usually not a good time to spring a discussion on financial matters.
Limit the number of people: A full family meeting might seem like the family is ganging up on the older adult. So, keep the circle small. A one-to-one conversation also works.
Emphasize the positives: Don’t state your concerns in terms of physical or mental decline. Focus on a bright future such as, “Instead of taking time to do your taxes, you can spend more time with your knitting group, lunching with friends and doing what you love to do."
Offer to help: Consider asking your parents if they need help with small tasks not directly related to money. As they grow comfortable accepting a little assistance, they may also accept your support on financial matters.
Avoid fighting words: Certain words make people feel defensive which stops communication. Avoid words such as “always”, “never” and “nothing.”
Choose other words carefully: Consider using “I statements” rather than “you statements.” For example, instead of saying “You need to…,” say “I am concerned that you may need to,” or “I would love to help you…”
Consider finding an ally: This person may take the role of an objective third party which might be a financial planner or attorney. Of course, your parent must be comfortable with the presence of a third party.Another approach suggested by Glenn Ruffenach, a former editor and reporter for the Wall Street Journal, is to keep it simple. For example, tell your mother that as we age, all of us need some help with something. That might be yard work, home repairs or transportation. Household finances are no exception. Ruffenach spoke with his mother when she was in her early 70s and in good health about the importance of having a family member on what he called “standby.” That’s someone who knew about her bills, credit cards, insurance, investments and other aspects of her finances. This person had access to her accounts in an emergency and could step in if help was needed. In Ruffenach’s case, he happily reported his mother agreed to a “standby.”
If your mother continues to be confused or her condition worsens, a recent technology advancement might be useful down the road. It is called True Link which is a prepaid debit card that is accepted wherever Visa cards are accepted. Essentially, it establishes spending limits and serves as a substitute for cash, checks and credit cards. It can be used to block online purchases and specific merchants, sham charities and over the phone spending. It also can limit ATM withdrawals. Individuals can purchase medications, meals at restaurants and buy from any company that honors Visa cards. The good news it allows loved ones to safely and independently purchase what they need. That’s one way to preserve dignity and independence. See www.truelinkfinancial.com more information.
P.M. Thank you for your important question. Your mother is fortunate to have such a caring daughter. Best wishes for a successful journey.