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Role Reversal: How to have 'The Talk' with Your Aging Parents


Remember having ‘the talk’ with your parents? That clumsy conversation forced upon you as a pre-teen when you desperately tried to avoid eye contact while muttering “I already know this, Dad” and wavered back and forth between feeling embarrassed and grateful?

Get ready for a role reversal.

As your parents transition into older age, it may be up to you to initiate ‘the talk’ with them. This time, however, it won’t be about the facts of life. It’ll be about issues surrounding the sunset of their life. Nursing home preferences. Health care directives. Burial plots. Wills. Sensitive subjects, certainly, but ones that shouldn’t be avoided, according to Northwestern Mutual estate planning expert Ruth Driscoll. “When important decisions need to be made about Mom and Dad, it’s easy for everyone in the family to say they have their parents’ best interests in mind,” says Driscoll. “Unfortunately, that may not necessarily be what Mom and Dad want, and adult children owe it to their parents to understand their wishes.” [...]

4. Approach finances delicately. Here’s something that may surprise you. Middle-income Americans age 50 and older are carrying more credit card debt, on average, than younger people, according to a Demos 2012 National Survey on Credit Card Debt of Low- and Middle-Income Households. “We have an entire generation entering retirement with a fair amount of debt,” says Driscoll. “Many of these parents don’t want to admit to their children that they’ve been financially irresponsible, so it’s important to approach financial conversations delicately.”

And even if your parents are financially stable, they may not be comfortable sharing the specifics of their wealth with you. In that case, Driscoll recommends making sure you accomplish at least one thing during your conversations: Learn the names of your parents’ financial advisor, attorney and  accountant if they have one, so you’ll know where to get the details if a financial issue arises. “This way, you’re not seen as someone who wants to pry into your parents’ affairs, but as someone who is truly an advocate for your parents—someone who can help to ensure their intentions are honored.”