You are not alone if the thought of asking your aging parents about the way they handle their household finances--or how they'd feel about moving to a nursing home fills you with anxiety.

However, you can't afford to delay this conversation. As your parents get older, it's important to sit down with them and talk about their health and financial well-being--before urgent decisions are forced on you or your family.

To avoid unneeded stress of urgent decisions, you must plan ahead.

1. Start the Conversation
An easy way to speak to Mom and Dad about their health and finances does not exist, but you might bring up the topic around the time the older parent turns 70. Once you start the dialogue, you'll have laid the groundwork to continue it in the future.

Be sure to involve everyone from the family and your parents' tax advisor, lawyer and Investment Professional.

2. Medical
Have a discussion about what your parents would like to happen if their health starts to fail. Do they want to stay in their home, or are they open to moving to an assisted living or long-term care facility? Do they have a health care proxy? If not work to establish one.

If acute care becomes necessary, is there a hospital they prefer? How much medical intervention do they want if their condition becomes dire? How would they like to handle end-of-life issues?

A meeting with their physicians can also help address some of your parents' issues or concerns.

The answers to these questions will play a critical role in helping you create a realistic and well-thought-out plan that includes everyone's wishes and values.

3. Finances
At some point, parents may need help with day-to-day financial tasks such as paying bills and balancing the checkbook, or with larger issues like investing. Be sure to discuss Power of Attorney to ensure they have chosen who they would like to take care of their finances.

It's important to clearly understand your parents' goals for their wealth, from being able to afford the retirement lifestyle they envision to supporting charities they care about. A meeting with your parents and their Investment Professional can be a forum to discuss their goals and wishes.

Having these discussions as early as possible helps establish the rationale for estate planning decisions.

4. What to Look For
Parents are not likely to volunteer that they need help, so it's up to their children to watch for red flags.

Look to see if they are having uncharacteristic difficulty with things such as:

  • Performing daily chores
  • Keeping track of household finances
  • Opening mail
  • Managing investments
  • Avoiding scams

Discreetness and sensitivity are essential. One way to monitor your parents' approach to household finances is to suggest going through a routine chore together during one of your regular visits. You might offer to sit with your parent as they pays bills. If your parent appears to be struggling during the process, offer to take it off their plate or a hand.

5. Get the Whole Family Involved
If you have siblings, open communication can foster cohesion and make handling the issues a lot easier, even if you live in different parts of the country.

Since the burden of care can easily land on the shoulders of the child who lives closest to the parents, it's important the others pitch in.

While it may be a challenge and a bit scary at first, addressing medical and financial issues early can prevent problems later, as well as help maintain family harmony. If you try to start those conversations while your parents' health is fragile, that's a real challenge for everybody. Knowing what to expect from each other can give everyone in the family better knowledge of expectations and make them feel more comfortable about choices being made.

Caroline Hill, Financial Advisor


(This article contains the current opinions of the author but not necessarily those of Brighton Securities Corp. The author's opinions are subject to change without notice. This blog post is for informational purposes only. Forecasts, estimates, and certain information contained herein should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. References to specific securities and their issuers are for illustrative purposes only and are not intended and should not be interpreted as recommendations to purchase or sell such securities).