More than likely, your parents grew up in a house where money wasn't discussed openly (believe it or not, most families talk about these things more than they did in previous decades), so they may not be comfortable sharing details of their financial lives with you. Their pride and privacy may also be a barrier.
That's why you need to head into a conversation like this with just the right tone. Too much force and your parents may think you're trying to move them toward the nursing home or that you're just after their money. Be too timid, however, and your parents will be able to brush off the subject with a simple, "Don't worry honey, we're fine."
Talk these strategies over during your next money group and do a bit of role playing to see what approach might work best for you and your parents. Remember, a slightly uncomfortable moment now will give you all peace of mind in the years to come.
- Use yourself as the ice breaker. Explain to your parents the steps you and your spouse are going through for your own estate planning, long term insurance, etc. If you're open about your own finances, it may make your parents feel more comfortable about being open with theirs.
- Bring up a friend's situation. You may get your mom and dad to open up with something like, "My friend Suzy's father is really sick and now she's worried about her mother's future. It made me wonder, have you and Dad done any planning?"
- Rely on recent headlines. Not a day goes by without some new story about aging boomers or the elderly. Next time something like estate taxes or Medicare prescription drug plans are in the news, talk to them about what you've read and ask what they're doing about the specific topic. Hopefully, that will open the door for a wide-ranging discussion.
- If they can't talk, ask them to get out pencil and paper. Sometimes it's easier to say things in writing than it is to say out loud. If your parents simply can't get the words to come out, ask them to jot down their thoughts about the sort of planning they've done, where the most important documents are kept, and any wishes they'd like you to know about. Then you can go back and ask them specific questions that they should be more comfortable with once the ice has been broken.