It’s easy to avoid discussing money with your parents, and in some families, the subject is almost taboo. The topic doesn’t become easier to broach as parents and children age, but it does become more important. Adult children with their own financial responsibilities will have questions, including how well-prepared their parents are for retirement. Adult children also need to know at what point their parents may need help, either financially or with managing their retirement income.

Though parents may be reluctant to talk about retirement and money, it’s an important conversation all adult children can and should initiate. Here are six steps to having the retirement conversation with parents.

Set the stage

Money and aging are sensitive topics. Introduce the subject of your parents’ retirement at a time when you can have a peaceful, rational, and face-to-face conversation about their plans for the future.

Get support

Consider including siblings or other relatives — or at least telling them about your plans to gather the facts about your parents’ financial future. A trusted financial professional can also be an educated and unbiased resource to guide the conversation, diffuse any tension, and keep topics on track.

Make your motivations clear

Tell your parents that you want to know about their plans in case they need help in the future. Your goal is to understand their wishes and resources, not to take control. Explain that you’re there to help — and acknowledge that the subject is sensitive.

Ask the right questions

The focus should be on gathering information, not giving advice. Instead of telling your parents what they “should” be doing, try framing statements with “I.” For example: “One of the things I’d like to know about ... ” or “I’m concerned about ... ”

Follow those introductory phrase with questions like:

  • What are your plans for retirement? Are you confident you are on the right path?
  • What are your planned sources of retirement income?
  • Do you have any sources of debt? If so, what are they?
  • What type of insurance coverage do you have (life, long-term care, Medicare)?
  • If you were unable to live in your current location, where would you want to go?
  • Have you considered if you could maintain a household alone if necessary?
  • Are you now working with a financial planning professional?

Locate documents

Ask about your parents’ important documents, including where the originals are stored and if they are up-to-date (including beneficiary designations). Make a list of the following:

  • Bank accounts, wills, trusts
  • Health and long-term care insurance policies
  • Investments, pensions, Social Security
  • Durable power of attorney, health care proxy, living will

Keep the conversation going

Ideally, this will not be a one-time discussion. The subject will likely become more comfortable for everyone. You can continue to provide your parents with information and ideas to help them manage their finances. Ask regularly about their plans and concerns, and tell them you’re available if they’d like help addressing certain issues. Keep a list of the things you know about your parents’ finances and what you need to learn.

Approach these conversations with love and respect, and the results may surprise you. You may even want to share some of your own plans so it’s not all about your parents.

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