Religion, politics, finances. These are three things you never, ever discuss in polite company. Or at least that’s what our mamas taught us. But what happens when your mother, brother, or uncle starts to show signs of aging and an inability to effectively manage their personal finances? How do you know they have enough left in their retirement funds to pay for assisted living? How can you ensure they aren’t taken advantage of by those who might prey on the more vulnerable? These difficult conversations need to happen to ensure everyone is on the same page about the reality of your loved one’s financial situation.

Navigate what has the potential to be an uncomfortable conversation, as well as red flags to watch out for in financial records.

The Conversation

  • Treat your loved one with dignity. Remember that they once had a successful career, managed their household, and planned for retirement — all without your help. Be gentle when bringing this up. Let them maintain their independence. Come at it from a place of care and desire to help rather than a place of superiority.
  • Be proactive instead of reactive. Plan to have a conversation about finances before it’s needed. If an event like forgetting to pay the mortgage or making an unusually large donation to a charitable organization occurs, the conversation will likely happen under duress. Instead, set aside time with your loved one now to have a calm, strategic conversation where everyone has their wits about them.
  • Make a list of documents you might need. Getting a well-rounded look at your loved one’s finances will likely involve looking at bank accounts, 401ks, investments, properties, inheritance documents, and more. For many seniors (and for many people, in general!), out of sight means out of mind, so create a list of needed documents and accounts to collect before your sit-down, otherwise they might not think to include things like investment properties or stocks.
  • Make Assisted Living part of your conversation. Assisted living is an investment in seniors’ physical, social, and mental health, but it is something that many need to plan for financially. If your loved one has a long-term care insurance plan, it’s possible they’ll have coverage for assisted living through their plan. If not, you’ll want to have an open, honest dialogue about the costs associated with assisted living and if they’re prepared financially for that.

Red Flags to Watch Out For

  • Letters from collections agencies. This serves as a sign that your loved one may be forgetting to make payments or may not have the funds available to make those payments.
  • Hard to find bank statements. If bank statements can’t be easily found, it’s likely that the accounts aren’t being regularly monitored.
  • Large payments to charitable organizations, political groups, churches, or individuals. While it’s not always the case, seniors who make large payments like this could possibly be the victims of subtle persuasion, or worse, a scam.

While they do have the potential to be uncomfortable, conversations about your aging loved ones’ finances can also be an exciting look into their future and their next life adventure.