What can you do when your parents don’t want to talk about money

At some point in your life, the tables will turn – your parents, who likely taught you nearly everything you know, will need a helping hand. Whether that means assisting them in downsizing, navigating the Medicare process, or taking over the checkbook completely, much of the time help translates to money.

Unfortunately, that can be tough going. Many parents don’t want your assistance; they were raised in a different era, when money simply wasn’t discussed. They don’t want you to know the ins and outs of their finances, whether they’re struggling or flush.

So you have to approach the situation delicately, lending a helping hand while respecting boundaries. Here’s how:

  • Find an icebreaker. Use something going on in your own life, a friend or neighbor’s situation, or a headline to ease into the conversation so it flows in a casual, natural way. Once you’ve opened the door, you can broach other, more personal topics and feel out how your parent responds.
  • Write it out. Take a page from Lisa’s book – her father is reluctant to chat money, so she’ll find the right moment to casually mention that she just found a really great PDF to help organize financial records and ask him to fill it out. That way, you get the information you need, and your parent avoids the uncomfortable conversation. Just explain that you’re filling away the document in case you need it, or if he or she is uncomfortable with that, ask where it will be kept so you can access it if necessary.
  • Focus. If you’re able to open a conversation, approach it like a robbery – get what you need and get out. What, exactly, do you need? To ensure that your parents have a living will, a healthcare proxy, and a durable power of attorney for finances in place. Help create these documents – there are online versions you can fill out, or you can accompany them on a visit with their attorney (even if you sit in the waiting area) – and then make sure you know where they are kept so you can easily access them in an emergency.
  • Explain your reasoning. You’re not having this chat for fun – in fact, it’s likely every bit as uncomfortable for you. So explain that you’re doing this out of love, that you want them to be taken care of as they age and you want to help make sure that all of their affairs are in order. You’re not being nosey – you’re being proactive. And get on the same page with any siblings, so one of you has the conversation and relays any necessary information to the others. You don’t need to badger your parents about an uncomfortable conversation more than once.
  • Know when to back off. If you’re not getting anywhere in the conversation, back away and broach it again at another time. This isn’t a process that happens over night, and sometimes it’s easier to break down the walls bit by bit. Try to pull a little bit of information whenever you have the opportunity.
Jean Chatzky

About Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for NBC’s TODAY show, is an award-winning personal finance journalist, AARP’s personal finance ambassador, and a contributing editor for Fortune magazine. Jean is a best-selling author; her eighth and most recent book is Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security. She believes knowing how to manage our money is one of the most important life skills for people at every age and has made it her mission to help simplify money matters, increasing financial literacy both now and for the future. In April 2013 Jean launched Jean Chatzky's Money School , a series of college-style, interactive online personal finance courses that give men and women across the country the opportunity to learn from and interact directly with her. Jean lives with her family in Westchester County, New York.
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