Monday, June 7, 2010

Talking to your parents about THEIR finances and such

I am starting to realize I am part of "the sandwich generation."  Those of us who are still actively raising their own families, and are also taking care of their parents.  My mom is almost is 61.  Neither is in good health.  And they are completely co-dependent.

They moved almost 3 years ago to the city that we are (were?) hoping to relocate.  Now, when they made this decision, it was with the realization that we weren't living there, and had no idea if or when we ever would.  They thought that if they were there to "help" us, it would be good for everyone.

Here we are...3 yrs move for us, and they are there alone.  Mom basically never leaves the house unless it is for a doctor's appointment or to go to shopping of some sort.  She never adjusted well to the move.  Not that she was that active before, but she just watches tv now.  Dad is a little better on the social end.

But as I stated, neither is in good health.  They take about 30 medications daily between them (and between you and me, I don't think they need half of them....I think a little exercise and better diet would do wonders).  If one of them passed away, the other wouldn't be able to survive.  Mom needs dad for company.  Dad needs mom as a caretaker.

They have hinted about money problems lately.  Alot of their sentences contain "we need to watch our finances" or "we have to see about the cost."  Dad retired on disability, and between health care, their retirement account taking a huge hit, and poor spending, I think they are realizing that they are in trouble.

I think they bought a house that was out of their comfort range for a limited income. I think they made some foolish purchases (such as the $10,000 collection of art that they brother and I hate it.....I only say this because some day, he and I have no intention of keeping it).  I think they are penny wise, but pound foolish.

When we are there in a few weeks for vacation, I am planning on taking them out for coffee and talking to them.  Just us.  No G-man.  And it has to be public.  This will contain the tempers, and they can't just walk away (I will have the car!!).  Subject matters to broach are:

1)  What is going on with their finances????  Are they simply being cautious, or is there more to this?  Knowing my parents, they will jump to the conclusion that I am being nosy.  But seriously, if there is something more to this, I think we should know.

2)  Power of Attorney.  Bro and I feel that one of us (aka, ME) should have a PoA.  With their health, someone needs the authority to sign for them, if need be.   This is going to be a HUGE fight.  They will insist that A) they aren't dying (no, not formally, but they really aren't in good health), B) they can take care of themselves(maybe as a couple, but individually....not so much), and C) that I just want to stick them in a home (old joke that is about to come back around and bite me). 

3)  What will happen when one of them dies?  Mom and discussed a long time ago that if she died first, that I would be responsible for Dad.  If Dad died first, Mom will so heartbroken, that Bro and I think that she would probably die shortly after.  Ultimately, neither can live alone.  They will fight us on this.  But really, they can't.  Enter.....the PoA.  We need to decide and resolve that something needs to be planned.  I think they should move in with me, although that will be a huge stress ball on me. But I know they will not live in an assisted living.  I know they won't move in with Bro. 

This needs to be a candid talk.  All the cards on the table.  Any advice from those who have been there???


  1. Hmm--well, I've got some advice, but my guess is you are NOT going to like it. I'm 61, with five adult children. While, from the sound of it, I'm more active than your parents, I do have some serious health issues. I'm willing to talk to my kids about the future, but if they came at me the way you are with your parents, there would be a scene. Let's start with the Power of Attorney. NO WAY! If I gave my kids a POA, they could use it any time, whether or not I only intended it to be used if I were unable to act. A health directive makes more sense--it goes into detail as to my wishes to be kept alive in a variety of scenarios. You can find these online, geared to each state. That art collection that you're so dismissive of? How about letting your parents know that you and your brother aren't interested in it and won't keep the collection together. Give your parents a chance to will it to some one or some entity that will love it the way they do. Why assume that your parents would never consider assisted living? Perhaps they know nothing about it. Most complexes offer free tours and free lunches--check them out. If nothing else, it will get your parents out of the house occasionally. They need to think about their privacy needs--actually assisted living is far more private than living with one's kids. As far as your parents not being particularly social--have they ever been? Are they unhappy being at home watching TV? It really isn't for you to judge whether or not they have a good life. Did you see the house in the New Hampshire woods that Supreme Court Justice David Souter retired to? A small home, a messy yard, and shelves of books everywhere--it looked like heaven to me. Your parents don't have to talk to YOU about their finances, but you should suggest strongly that they need to talk to SOMEONE. Start with the local Senior Services/Disability Services division of your local welfare department and see if there are fee-based financial advisors they would recommend. Then, as the dutiful daughter, pay the fee yourself, but let your parents get their own advice. If you think they are truly hurting financially, you and your brother can offer to take over some of the regular bills, or hand them some cash each month. However, keep in mind that they may feel pinched, but not actually be in financial trouble. My depression-born mother always worried about money, never more so than when my father died. But she was actually fine--and had plenty of money for her naturally-frugal lifestyle. Also, don't assume that your parents can't live without each other. My father always took care of my mother and when he died, I was sure she was going to fall apart. But it never happened--in fact, she became much more social after his death. Who knew?

  2. Thank you so much for the insight from "their" side.

    They both have living wills, and my brother and I are aware of their wishes (no machines to sustain life, organ donation if possible). Our concern is that 1) will they be able to actually make those decisions for each other, and 2) with both of us hours away, one of us should have the authority to do something if they become incapacitated.

    The art collection...they are fully aware that we don't like it. They know we will get rid of it, and will sell it as a collection, vs piece by piece. My point about the collection wasn't that I don't care for it, moreover that the money spent seems over the top, considering their situation, and the fact that growing up, we never had anything on the walls!!!

    I didn't say my parents don't have a good life. They love their home. They like the area. My mom has always been a homebody...and as I stated, without my dad, she will go days without human contact.

    Assisted living....they have already stated that they won't do it. Again, this is where some authority needs to come into play. If it comes to living alone, they will not admit they can't do it until it is too late. I am totally willing to give it a shot, but I also know how many times 911 has been called.

    They have a financial adviser for stocks, bonds, etc. I am more concerned about their day to day life. If I have to pick up something, that is fine. I just need to know about it before a situation gets out of hand.

    I am not saying that they need to show me their checkbook....I just want to make sure they are in a good place.

    The baseline of all of this is that my parents had these conversations with THEIR parents, and at one point, my parents were making all the decisions for my grandparents. My parents don't seem to realize that the baton eventually gets passed, and they have see that THEY are their parents, and that Bro and I may have to step in.

    I went through this with them when I had my children. They charged in like a bull in a china shop. And I had to tell them that Bossy and Sassy were MY children, not theirs. I was in charge....they didn't like it one bit. My parents have a grand sense of entitlement and that they are numero uno in ALL situations. Nope...sorry!!

  3. Interesting post - interesting responses. I'm smack in the midst of this myself! Not fun! From a legal standpoint, the elderly are advised to have both an advanced directive/living will and a power of attorney for Financial and a POA for Medical. If drawn up properly they do not give power until a medical or financial crisis arises. They aren't carte blanche as the previous poster might suggest. I'm not an attorney, but I do play one on t.v. LOL!

    My parents are in the midst of filing bankruptcy at 65 due to the collapse of the real estate market (my dad is a realtor and has lost his shirt!) My mother-in-law was recently widowed and in poor health. She's currently visiting us with the intention that she will soon be moving near us. Thankfully, we have some amazing independent-to-assisted living communities around us that basically start out as independent patio home rentals that can move into assisted living (we get to determine the level of care required and can adjust that as needed.) I'm thankful for the ease that provides.

    The one caveat I put out there for my hubs and SIL and my parents - if there is an expectation that my husband and I will be financially responsible for any part of their life or long term care, then we expect to be able to have the candid, open conversations about their finances and wishes. Doing all of this with dignity and professionalism - leaving all the family baggage at the door is what I'm focusing on.

    Challenging at best, destructive and humiliating at worst. Its a slippery slope, indeed!

    Hang in there!

  4. Wow, sorry to read about all that...sounds like you've got a tough road.

    On top of the PoA, I would also push for a sit-down sooner rather than later so they can show you where and how all of their finanical documents are organized, their passwords, etc. This can save a nightmare of investigative work down the road.

    Hang tough.