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Having “the talk” with your parents

Do you remember when your parents sat you down to have “the talk”? At that time, it was the last thing you wanted to hear and likely included some anxious moments and uncomfortable feelings. Well, it could be time to think about another “talk” but not with your kids – with your parents. Many of us are reluctant to discuss health and finances with our parents until a crisis occurs. A sudden health issue can reduce estate planning options, as well as increase costs. That’s why discussions and pre-planning are so crucial.

The discussion could be a difficult and emotional conversation to have. However, the benefits of knowing your parents’ wishes can be extraordinary. If your parents’ health allows it, they should be involved in making decisions about their living arrangements, level of care and estate plans. Your role is that of supporter and information gatherer.

Here are some tips to help you find answers to your questions and theirs:

  • Timing is everything: have your conversation well before a crisis occurs.
  • Consider that your parents may also be waiting for an opportunity to have a discussion about their future with you, and you are providing a welcome opening.
  • Use ice-breaking strategies such as offering to help with their estate planning or seeking their help with your retirement planning.
  • Keep in mind that your parents want and need to maintain their independence and dignity.
  • Listen, and try to understand their fears and anxieties.
  • Make sure that the conversation focuses on your parents’ health and well-being as well as your love and concern for them.

What to discuss

Once you feel comfortable discussing their estate plans with your parents, it is important to know what to cover. You could talk about the following:

  • Income – What are your parents’ sources of income, and do any conditions apply? For example, do they know how their monthly income will change when one of them passes on?
  • Investments – Have your parents designated beneficiaries for their registered investments and insurance policies? If so, who are they?
  • Expenses – What are your parents’ expenses and will their income be sufficient to cover projected home or personal care costs that may escalate with age?
  • Insurance – What types of insurance coverage do your parents have?
  • Wills – Do your parents have up-to-date wills?
  • Executor – Have your parents designated a personal representative (sometimes called an executor, or liquidator in Québec) in their wills? This person (or trust company) is responsible for winding up their affairs and distributing assets and bequests in accordance with their wills.
  • Enduring power of attorney – Have your parents given someone the power to make financial decisions on their behalf if either or both of them become incapacitated?
  • Living will (sometimes called a health directive and not valid in all provinces) – Have  your parents provided explicit directions about the personal and medical care they desire should they become incapacitated?
  • Documents – Be sure you know the location of your parents’ wills and other legal papers, as well as the location and content of their bank accounts and safety deposit boxes.

There are many financial and estate planning strategies available to your parents as they age. A professional advisor can help you sort out the details and ease the awkwardness of “the talk” by bringing an outside perspective to your discussion.

Reviewed: Feb 9, 2015

This column, written and published by Investors Group Financial Services Inc. (in Quebec – a Financial Services Firm), presents general information only and is not a solicitation to buy or sell any investments. Contact a financial advisor for specific advice about your circumstances. For more information on this topic please contact your Investors Group Consultant.