Caregiver Question | 01/11/24

How do I talk to my Mom about money?

DEAR CARALLEL: My mother is 73 and as independent as they come. I’m an only child and Mom’s a widow so I thank the heavens daily that she’s still healthy and doing her thing.

That being said, I must admit that as I’ve seen more and more of my friends having to step in and help their parents, I’ve wondered when I’ll have to start doing the same. Maybe feared is a better word than wondered because Mom lives three hours away and I don’t know how I’ll manage from afar.

I suppose we will cross that bridge when we come to it but this holiday season did open my eyes. Mainly about finances. Mom made some comments about being on the phone for hours trying to straighten out her internet and cable bills and still wasn’t sure what the outcome would be. She also was discussing how expensive some of her co-pays are for medications and that she is having trouble figuring out the best pharmacy to go through. 

The part that really concerned me was that I saw a bunch of bills and mail spread out on the back table and she never seemed to be so unorganized about this stuff in the past. It made me feel like I could (should?) be an extra set of eyes and ears for her on financial matters. 

The problem is that I don’t know how to approach the topic with her. She’s so independent, I know she’s still competent, and I don’t want her to feel attacked or that I am second guessing her. But I am a touch concerned and feel like I should be in the know so that I can help. Any ideas on how to do this? –Talise in New Rochelle, NY

DEAR TALISE: Good for you for listening to your gut and being proactive on this. It sounds like you and your mother are a great team. And she’s lucky to have you! 

Money is an uncomfortable topic of conversation for many families–so you’re definitely not alone here. And as uncomfortable as it can be to talk about, it’s important that you do. 

So here are some ideas for how to do it successfully. 

Set and Setting: When and where you have the conversation is important. Pick the right time and place. Find a quiet and comfortable spot where you can sit down without distractions. And avoid scheduling a discussion during stressful or busy times so you won’t feel you have to rush.

Information to Gather: It’s important to have an idea of the information you want to get from your discussion(s). Here are some things to consider:

  • Income details
  • Monthly household expenses
  • Savings and investments
  • Debts
  • Insurances
  • Taxes
  • Legal and Estate Planning
  • Financial habits
  • Financial documents (banks, credit cards, investments, loans, tax returns)

Starting the Conversation: Like most things in caregiving, being thoughtful and empathetic should set you up for success. Here are some ideas for how to keep things casual while getting into the conversation. 

  • Make it personal – Talk about your own experience. Ask your mother if she has any tips or suggestions.  
  • Tell a story – Talk about someone who did a good job (or not) of planning.
  • Focus on family – Many people want to leave something behind for their children or grandchildren. If that’s important to your Mom, this can be a good way to start the discussion. 

In the Conversation: Once you’ve gotten started, here are some important questions to ask: 

  • Is someone advising you on financial matters? 
  • Where would I go to find out about your finances if something happens to you?  
  • Where do you want to live when you get older?  
  • Do you ever worry about money? These open-ended questions aren’t threatening and can give you a lot of insight.  
  • Do you have a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) for financial or medical matters in place? The ‘durable’ part means it stays valid if your mother ever becomes incapacitated or otherwise unable to make decisions for themselves.

Moving forward, try to remember that this will likely be a series of conversations instead of a one-time thing.

But the sooner you start, the more time you’ll have to get the clear and detailed picture that you need of your mom’s finances.

You’ve got this, Talise!

Hope this helps,

–Jennifer, Carallel Care Advocate

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