NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Helping Older Family Membes Handle $'s

Helping Older Family Members Handle $’s


Many families don’t discuss finances until a crisis occurs—and then it may be too late. Once a person is mentally incapacitated, options are reduced and procedures become more complicated and costly. In addition, professionals—from social workers, to lawyers, judges, and court-appointed guardians or conservators—may become involved.

Planning ahead is often difficult because it requires anticipating situations such as dependency, disability, incapacity, and death, and exploring ways to deal with them. It can create anxiety for everyone. Despite this, there are good reasons to plan. Although planning ahead will not reduce the emotional pain that accompanies disability, loss of mental capacity, or death, it can:

• Help you avoid having to make decisions in a crisis atmosphere

• Make decisions easier in difficult times

• Reduce emotional and financial upheaval

• Ensure that a person’s lifestyle, personal values and philosophy, and choices are known

• Increase the financial management options

• Reduce disagreements among siblings about “what Mom and Dad want” and how to handle their assets

If you haven’t talked about money matters before, you might be reluctant to begin. Talking about money has a high “discomfort index.” It’s often more difficult to talk about potential incapacity than to talk about death. None of us likes to think that someday a family member, or we ourselves, may not be able to make decisions or handle personal finances.            Most of us don’t want to start a conversation with, “Dad, when you die…” or “Mom, if you

Approaching a family member about financial issues takes thoughtfulness, caring, and determination. Using the following strategies increases the likelihood of a positive discussion.

Be clear about your reason for talking.  Ask yourself why you are bringing up the subject of finances with your relative. Do you want him to do what you feel needs to be done? Are there reasons to be concerned about his ability to manage his finances either now or in the future?  Once you are clear about your purpose, you will be in a better position to discuss financial concerns with the person.

Look for natural opportunities to talk.  One way to begin a discussion is to share your preferences and plans in the event of your own serious illness, incapacity, or death. Mental incapacity is not related just to aging and illness. A debilitating accident could happen to anyone, regardless of age. Parents may question the motives of adult children who express concern about parental finances and planning but have not made plans themselves.

Talking about plans you have made for yourself may help create an atmosphere in which your relative feels more comfortable sharing her thoughts with you. You might say, “I’ve been thinking, what if ____ happened to me….” Then ask, “What would you want done if you ever were in that situation?” Or, “I’ve been thinking about what would happen if I were…. I would like to talk with you about it.”




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