Julie Jason's Your Money: Elderly parents might be reluctant to share details with children

By JULIE JASON January 06. 2017 6:26PM


It is not uncommon for elderly parents to refrain from sharing financial and estate-planning details with their children. The same goes for sharing health concerns.

Leading independent lives, parents and their children forget that at some point, they will likely need each other.

What parents and children also might forget are the challenges of aging. Whether they be physical or cognitive or both, there is no way to avoid them - except to die young. As Bette Davis said, getting old is not for sissies.

If you have elderly parents who have not reached out to you about their futures, should you initiate a conversation?

First, let me share what I have seen work best in my money-management practice.

Because I think it is important to understand how much interaction an elderly client wishes to have with his or her children, I ask about the client's intentions.

Some clients are fiercely independent, not wishing to involve anyone other than their team of advisers. We organize that effort. Others want their children to meet their parents' advisers, but hesitate to initiate.

I take care of that step by organizing two sets of meetings - one for the client and each adviser, typically the attorneys and accountants who work with us. We set an agenda for the second meeting, which involves the children.

Usually, children welcome the opportunity to learn firsthand whether their parents' needs are being addressed. The meeting addresses general planning issues and special needs.

What happens when children just don't know what's going on and don't have anyone outside the family to initiate this sort of meeting?

As an 88-year-old father of five once told me, children should nudge parents in the right direction. He put things this way: "If children are concerned, offer to help but don't insist."

One small step in the right direction is an offer to organize important documents. Start with the basics:
  • Advance directive
  • Health-care proxy
  • Powers of attorney
  • Wills and trusts
  • Insurance policies
  • Deeds
  • Car registrations
  • Bank statements
  • Brokerage statements
  • IRA beneficiary designations
  • Stock certificates
  • Recent tax returns

If your parents do not wish to show you some or all of these documents, you'll have to respect that. They might not be ready to share. They also might feel that they don't want to burden you. It's important to clarify.

You also might ask your parents to make a record of where important documents are kept, including safety-deposit boxes and other valuables, for future reference.

At a minimum, you might want to suggest they give you a list of their attorneys, accountants and financial advisers, in case you need to contact them in an emergency sometime in the future.

Given a good relationship, there is a high likelihood that parents will appreciate a helping hand if it is offered.

What about health concerns? When parents enter their 80s and 90s, children might rightly become concerned about their physical welfare.

I have had experience with healthy clients who became ill suddenly, requiring hospitalization, followed by nursing-home care. The worst situations are those in which the parents did not trust the children enough to talk to them openly - or simply never got around to having a conversation with them. While everyone wants to be helpful, confusion can reign, especially if children live far away.

If you are a parent, you don't want to wait until you find yourself in a nursing home before talking to your children about your wishes. Keep in mind that you control the information, so you can still keep private those things that you don't want to disclose.

If you are a child, offer to help, but don't take over. Mutual respect is most important at this stage of life.

Julie Jason, JD, LLM, a personal money manager at Jackson, Grant of Stamford, Conn., and award-winning author, welcomes questions and comments to readers@juliejason.com.


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