Your Parents - Their Money... by Miriam Zucker, ACSW
Cushioned between television commercials for facial rejuvenation and those that portray the successful dieter, is a new ad. Unlike the aforementioned messages that have us fantasizing about how we can regain our youth or lose our bulk, it brings us back to reality with a thud. It suggests that now is the time to plan for what neither weight loss or plastic surgery can ultimately prevent...death. A husband and wife are depicted. We learn that they, in cooperation with a particular funeral home, have made known their wishes at time of death. Mission accomplished, the relieved couple comments that now their children will not be faced with making these decisions for them. As I watched the final moments of this commercial, I wondered... had this couple also shared with their children some of the information about their financial status?
Money, like death and sex, is a difficult subject for adult children to approach with parents. The response of parents to this subject can be varied. For people of means, protecting their assets is something that is as commonplace as reading the daily paper. They would be remiss if they did not attend to these responsibilities. For a larger percent of the population, having to reveal assets may be downright threatening. Mention of the topic may be met by the questions...."Why do you want to know? It's not your concern and you're not going to take over our lives." Riding piggy back on this reaction may be the parents' feeling that their children are just being greedy or trying to take advantage of them. Or perhaps Mom and Dad may agree that it is an important issue. They agree to see an attorney, listen to all that is said, return home, and refuse to take any action. Maintaining independence remains paramount. Sometimes it's plain stubbornness that allows control to be maintained. Between siblings, one also takes note of the unparalleled power money can have. Old rivalries may shine anew as the topic of Mom and Dad's money is brought up. "He always had his hand in dad's pocket" a sister may say. "Now he's one-up on me again." "She always was Dad's favorite, what will Dad give his little girl now?"
How can the above scenarios be prevented? Initially, let me state that they may never occur. If this is the case, count your blessings and all go out to the ballgame. But for the rest of us, there are some helpful approaches. For parents who feel that, like sex, one does not discuss finances with the children, have a notebook where your details of your assets are kept. The sole information that has to be shared with adult children is the existence and the whereabouts of this little black book. For adult children, it may be wise to point out to parents that unless some planning is done, the only people who will benefit is Uncle Sam and the attorneys. At this juncture you may reveal some facts about your own finances. This may encourage parents to open up about theirs. Beyond this, look to develop a working alliance with parents. Suggest rather than criticize. Instead of doing all for Mom and Dad, guide them in the proper direction. Unless otherwise requested, let parents meet alone with the attorney, financial planner or a bank official.
It is only the young that have no difficulty talking money. May you have divine protection if you are a day late with their allowance! For the rest of us, we need to acknowledge that it can be an uncomfortable process to approach our parents about this topic. And for parents, it is equally painful to talk to children about these issues. But what we all must recognize is that a little knowledge can go a long way in providing parents and adult children with peace of mind. It is such an outcome that makes this family encounter a necessary one.