Discussing Financial Matters

If you suspect that your loved one is having difficulty managing finances, how do you broach the subject?

Understanding your loved one’s finances—especially those of an aging parent—is an incredibly important part of your caregiving role. But how do you ask your loved one to turn over checkbooks, credit cards, and savings to you if you suspect that he or she is having difficulty managing money? Unfortunately, this isn’t easy. But, by offering your help—or the assistance of a financial expert—you can save everyone a lot of heartache.

In asking your loved one if he or she needs assistance with money, remember two things: (1) you know your loved one best and (2) always respect your loved one’s safety and wishes. Because you know your loved one best, you know the best way to approach him or her regarding money. If your loved one is a straightforward person, it may be easier to ask straight out if help is needed. In contrast, if he or she is normally closed about such personal matters, it may be better to hint at a financial conversation by speaking about your own finances or intention to seek answers to financial questions.

Regardless of how you approach the topic, remember that money allows individuals to be independent. This means that your loved one should have as much of a say in his or her finances as possible. By respecting your loved one in this manner, you will facilitate his or her continued independence.

Knowing when to offer help is important.

  • Make sure that your loved one understands that you’re willing to help. It’s better to offer help too soon than to let your loved one’s finances fall into disarray.
  • Listen for cues that suggest your loved one is asking for help (e.g., you are given a list of his or her bank accounts, you see a disorderly stack of unpaid bills on the counter, you hear him or her worry about not being able to meet financial needs)

So, how does one communicate about money effectively?

  • Above all, unless your loved one lacks the capacity of judgment, always respect his or her financial decisions
  • If you are working on your own finances, offer to look into any questions your loved one may have
  • Let your loved one know specifically what you need to be able to help manage his or her finances. Be sure to obtain the following: 
        - A list of the contents of the safety deposit box 
        - Account statements of paid bills 
        - ATM card 
        - Automobile titles 
        - Bank certificates 
        - Cancelled checks and bank statements 
        - Checkbook 
        - House deeds 
        - Life and disability insurance policies 
        - Prepaid funeral receipts 
        - Stocks and mutual funds 
        - Tax records
  • Propose financial adjustments that would raise your loved one’s income, but make sure your proposals are of a risk level that your loved one can handle.

Once you and your loved one are comfortable handling the basics of financial conversation, you might also want to consider the following:

  • Add your name to his or her bank accounts. If you are an only child this can be done permanently and the assets will pass directly to you when your loved one dies. If the assets are to be split between multiple individuals, add your name to the account “for convenience only” so that you can pay your loved one’s bills with checks, but the money will not pass directly to you if your loved one dies.
  • Discuss creating a durable power of attorney (including taxes and retirement plans) and a will with your loved one if he or she has not already done so. If one already exists, make sure that it is kept current.
  • Ask for a copy of the key to your loved one’s safe deposit box

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