How to Talk to Your Aging Parents About Money

Articles How to Talk to Your Aging Parents About Money

by Jill O’Donnell IRIS Consulting for Seniors

When growing up we were convinced that our parents knew absolutely everything. They had ready answers to our never ending questions and were very patient in their responses making certain we understood what they told us. As we grew older and our world became larger, we learned that other people could also answer many of our questions and concerns. Of course, in our teens, we were certain we knew everything and our parents knew nothing.

I remember Laura Legge, the first woman treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada, tell me about how much knowledge she gained as she aged. Laura told me when her son was first in law school, he told her she knew absolutely nothing about law. However, once he started articling with her, he was known to tell a client he had to confer with his mother who knew everything about law. This is the way we all treat our parents. Once we become adults ourselves, we recognize the value they are to us.

Because we hold our parents in awe, it is often difficult to acknowledge possible signs of decline as they age. Sometimes when their cognitive powers are in question, we find it almost impossible to deal with the complex issues surrounding our loved ones. Just talking to them about these concerns can be a really big issue.

How often do you spend time with your parents but do not feel you have really communicated anything? You visit your parents and ask how things are going.

Dad says he can’t fish anymore because it’s too hard on his knees. Mom says she stopped playing Mah Jong with her friends because Sadie cheats. You suggest they might want to join up with a senior’s club and they both tell you that is for old people. Frustrated at the visible changes occurring in your parents, you change the topic of conversation and nothing gets resolved.

Perhaps mother has visual losses she is not accepting and by blaming others, she is in denial of such frailties. Joint replacements today can be a major boon to arthritic knees and hips, however, a person must admit the need and then accept the procedure.

You know there are medical problems to consider but again, your parents will merely say, “we’re fine” and hope you will forget about them and any of their concerns.

Money issues are the biggest hurdles to cross. Our parents are not accustomed to talking to anyone, least of all their children about their finances. Children are reluctant to even broach the topic. Parents perceived as “doing well financially” may not be doing so at all. They just don’t want to burden their children with their financial concerns. If you are able to make any kind of progress in learning about their finances, you may hear they say, “Oh dear, don’t worry about us, we’ll manage”.

Then there are parents who are “saving for a rainy day” but the rainy day is here. They have adequate funds to give them the quality of life they have always lived even if they require assistance with housekeeping or care giving. You may have to convince them to spend their “nest egg” now. Others fall between these two scenarios. Communicating these needs to adult children is the only way to solve the issues surrounding aging parents. So, how do you learn to communicate with your parents? START SLOWLY.

  1. Pick a place and time where you will not be disturbed or interrupted.
    It is best to start with something that isn’t too threatening such as health. Gathering important facts such as medications they are presently taking, their family doctor, dentist, pharmacist as well as Insurance and OHIP numbers.
  2. Let your mother or father vent- they need someone to “listen” to them.
    Dad starts to tell you that your mother doesn’t listen to him. Maybe she has some hearing loss and is reluctant to admit it. Maybe venting is just a litany of problems. LISTEN to them. That will make a big difference. It shows you care. You will also glean interesting information if you listen closely.
  3. Be attentive to what they are saying.
    Don’t butt in. Let them finish their sentences.
  4. Show you are listening.
    Look them face on and nod to acknowledge you hear them.
  5. Rephrase and repeat what you hear so they know you heard them.
  6. Do not pass judgment about what they say.
    As difficult as it may be, just listen. That will help you to gain their confidence so they may tell you more.
  7. Do not be condescending or patronizing.
    Try to allow them remain “in control” and avoid taking on the dominant position to what they are telling you. Whatever you do, do NOT talk in platitudes. (“You’re making a mountain out of a molehill” for example)
  8. Treat them as equals.
    Once you have secured their trust, it is time to introduce the issue of finances. The simplest way is to ask them where they do their banking. Perhaps ask if they know the name of the Bank Manager. Try to see if they will tell you the type of accounts they hold and the numbers of those accounts. Ask them if they have a financial planner at the bank or otherwise. Once you have opened this door and secured the necessary information, you can then decide how best to deal with these matters.


In adult child – parent relationships, problems begin when parents are threatened by their failing powers. Keep that in mind you can still allow them to be “in charge” by offering your help and assistance. I like to call this time in life INDEPENDENT DEPENDENCE. Allow them to gain your confidence by respecting their needs. Turning over the “power” of parenthood to adult children if pushed can become a point of conflict. That means taking it slowly. Let you parent give their permission to you when they are ready. Remember to take things slowly and respect their contribution to whatever manner of communication you can achieve.

A crisis changes everything. Once that occurs, you must immediately take charge. Don’t be surprised though if it is accepted without question. That is the simplest way of transferring the power from parent to adult child.

All of us need stroking. As children we received unconditional love in the form of hugs and kisses from our parents. Touching makes us feel good. Too often adult children are so busy raising their own children and focusing on career that they do take the time to spend a few extra minutes with mom or dad touching them, rubbing their shoulders rather than just a quick peck on the cheek when saying hello or goodbye.

The last thing to realize is the importance of a Power of Attorney for personal care and property/finance. In Ontario, we have laws governing the powers we can assume for our aging parents. Without having these in place, life can become very complicated, especially when there is a question of a parent’s lack of judgment in managing their affairs. Two words: PLAN AHEAD.

Jill L.O’Donnell, RN, BA. Author of  The Canadian Retirement Guide A Comprehensive  Handbook on Aging, Retirement, Caregiving & Health, Speaker, Trainer

For more information on will and estate planning, financial planning, and retirement, please contact us to speak with an advisor.