Cameron Huddleston is an award-winning journalist with more than 17 years of experience writing about personal finance. Before joining GOBankingRates, she was a contributing editor for Kiplinger.com and wrote the popular Kip Tips column, which was syndicated in Tribune newspapers nationwide. Her work has appeared on Yahoo!, MSN, AOL Daily Finance and other online and print publications. U.S. News & World Report named her one of the top personal finance experts to follow on Twitter, and AOL Daily Finance named her one of the top 20 personal finance influencers to follow on Twitter. She has appeared on “Fox & Friends,” MSNBC and CNN and has been a guest on ABC News Radio, Wall Street Journal Radio, NPR, WTOP in Washington, D.C., KGO in San Francisco and other personal finance radio shows nationwide. She has an MA in economic journalism from American University and BA in journalism and Russian studies from Washington & Lee University. Before becoming a personal finance journalist, she worked at daily newspapers and for Dow Jones Newswires, covering convertible securities and junk bonds. Her new book is entitled “Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations with Your Parents About Their Finances.”
In This Episode, You Will Learn:
- Fears that adult children have about talking to parents about finances.
- How to work with siblings when broaching the subject.
- Practical tips on how to start the conversation.
Connect with Cameron:
- Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations with Your Parents About Their Finances
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Cameron, thanks so much for taking some time to hang with me today.
Thank you so much for having me. I’m super excited.
So, tell us why did you write this fabulous book?
Exactly, it’s such a complicated topic, who in the world would touch it with a ten foot pole? I wrote this book because I didn’t want people to make the same mistakes I did. I, like most people, didn’t realize that I needed to be talking to my mom about her finances. But I was forced to have these conversations when it was almost too late. My mother, when she was in her early 60’s, started showing signs of memory loss. I was in my early thirties. I still had little kids. And even though I was and still am a financial journalist, I never thought to start asking my mom questions about, “Mom, where do you stand financially?” I had a general idea but when she started showing signs of memory loss, I realized I needed to have these conversations really fast, right away.
One of the first things I did was say to her, “Mom, we need to go meet with an attorney. We need to get your estate planning documents updated.” We did that and thank goodness we did, because if I hadn’t done that soon enough, you have to be competent to sign those documents. If you’re not, then no attorney is going to let you sign away power of attorney, health care power of attorney or sign a will. And as a child who had to help a parent manage her finances, if my mother had not named me power of attorney in health care or power of attorney while she was still competent, I would have had to go through very expensive, drawn out legal proceedings to get that power. That is not a situation that any family should have to go through.
As I was managing my mom’s finances and she was getting older, I was getting older. My friends started having these same issues with their parents. No one was having this issue when they were in their thirties like I was. I had no one to turn to for help and I had to figure it out on my own. Then my friends started coming to me and as I was getting more and more questions, I realized, “You know what? No one has to go through this alone like I did. I’m going to help people. I’m going to write a book and explain to them how to have these conversations.” How to get over their fears and what to ask. Explain all the legal documents that people need and how to find out if their parents have them and walk them through that process. And help them figure out what to do if their parents don’t want to have these conversations, because not every parent’s going to want to talk about their finances with their kids.
First of all, the book is amazing. It’s an absolutely amazing book. As I’m reading through it, I didn’t read every word, but I read a ton of it and I’m an only child and it brought up all kinds of nervousness and anxiety in me. I’m reading it and thinking that I just want to give you a hug. You’re going through this terrible time with your mom and then there’s these challenges and you’re giving us so much great information. It’s really just an incredible resource. You bring up multiple fears that adult children face when thinking about having this kind of conversation with parents about finances and about their will and power of attorney and so forth. I want to hear your perspective. I’m going to share a couple of these fears that you write about in the book that I have. The first one is, “My parents will think I’m being nosey.” What would you say to that?
I hear this all the time and this is what surveys show: kids don’t want to talk to their parents about finances because they think that mom and dad are going to say, “It’s none of your business.” Certainly, there will be some parents who will say that. I’m not going to lie, because there are parents who think that their finances are no one’s business, not even their kids. But the good news is, that most parents probably do not think this way. Most parents do realize that they need to be having these conversations with their kids and they just haven’t gotten around to it because we’re busy. We’re all so busy. And even parents who have had to help their own parents, oftentimes don’t even stop to say, “Oh, wait. I need to be having these conversations with my kids.”
A lot of parents really are just waiting for their kids to ask and they’re not going to think that you’re being nosey. They’re probably going to be grateful that you brought it up and they’re going to say, “You know what? I’ve been meaning to talk to you about this. I’m so glad you brought it up.” And for those parents who do say, “It’s none of your business,” my book certainly has some tips on walking people through that, but I will say briefly here that, if you get that sort of response from your parents, you can very politely and gently say, “Mom and Dad, it is my business because some day you might need my help and I want to be able to give you that help. But if we don’t have these conversations, I won’t be able to help you. Certain things need to be in place.”
I got to the end of the book and you reversed roles on me. You flipped the script on me because at the end of the book you say, “Hey, you should be having these conversations with your own kids now.” Like, “Oh, man. She got me. She got me good.” I wouldn’t think that my kids were being nosey, I would think that they were being helpful.
Alright, another fear; I don’t have this fear because I’m an only child. So, I know I’m getting all of their debt – I mean, all of their assets: “My parents will think I’m being greedy.”
This is a big one and this can be a reason why parents don’t want to have this conversation sometimes. Sometimes they don’t want to have to talk about what their kids are getting or what they’re leaving behind. As an only child, you don’t have to worry about it. You’re getting everything. But when there are a couple of kids, sometimes parents might not want to divide it evenly and they don’t want to have those conversations because they don’t want to tell their kids. Or, if they are leaving their kids a lot, they don’t want their kids to feel entitled. So, this can be a reason why parents are reluctant. Kids might be correct in assuming that their parents might think they’re being greedy, but if you approach it very gently and don’t come at them by saying, “Mom and Dad, I want to know what I’m getting.” That’s the last thing you want to say.
You want to frame it as, “Mom and Dad, I want to be able to help you out. I want to know what your wishes are.” There was a young woman I interviewed for my book and they had lost a family friend and that prompted her to have this conversation with her parents. “Mom and Dad, you have this business and I want to know what your plan is for it going forward if something were to happen to you.” And the parent’s kind of jokingly said, “Oh, are you trying to get rid of us?” She handled it so well because she said, “No, of course not. I just want to make sure that we know what your wishes are.” And the parents said, “Well, why don’t we let the attorney’s handle this.” But then a few months later, they came back and said to her, “Hey, we met with the attorney. We updated everything. We’ve named you our power of attorney. This is who has to do what and how we’ve divided things up.” And so, it turned out really well. She was a little bit nervous, but she knew that if she didn’t bring this up, her siblings wouldn’t. And like I said, her parent’s kind of joked but it worked out for the best.
Okay, so I think this next one is more of a concern that I would have. There’s a fear that my parents will be offended and our relationship will be impacted negatively in some way. What would you say to that?
I hear this all the time because people say, “I’m so afraid of having this conversation with my parents. It’s so awkward.” And here’s what I would say to that; I want everyone to think back to when you were in high school and think back to all the things you did back then that you knew were going to tick your parents off because they told you not to do it. But did it stop us? No. No, we knew if we stayed out too late or dated the wrong person, our parents were going to get mad. Right? But did it stop us then? No, we knew we were going to get grounded. We’re adults now, okay? If our parents get mad at us, they’re not going to ground us anymore.
What are we so afraid of, really? We’re not going to get in trouble the way we did when we were a kid and it didn’t stop us then. We probably have a much better relationship with our parents now. Most of us, not everyone. If you have a strong, loving relationship, your parents might feel a little bit of awkwardness when you bring the topic up, but they’re not going to stop loving you. They’re not going to hate you. They’re probably not going to blow up and they’re certainly not going to say, “Your grounded, go to your room.” That’s just not going to happen. So, as long as you approach this as a loving child who is talking to your parents out of concern for their wellbeing, they should not get mad at you.
You also bring up in the book, a number of fears that parents may have through this whole process. Can you walk us through some of those?
Yes, and probably the biggest is something that really applies to our generation. We’re Gen Xer’s. our parents are in their 70’s already and they were probably taught, “You don’t talk about money.” And they taught us the same thing. I grew up in a proper Southern home and my father used to always say, “Don’t talk about money. It’s impolite.” And you might have heard the same thing too. A lot of people in our generation heard this. So, that’s the big fear that our parents have. They don’t want to talk about money because they’ve always been told it’s taboo and they told us it was taboo.
If you’re going to talk to your parents about their finances and you know that they think money is a taboo topic, you don’t want to make the conversation initially about money. You don’t want to come to them and say, “Hey, Mom. I want to talk to you about your finances.” Don’t even use that word. Instead say, “Hey, Mom and Dad,” and then ask about a big picture topic. If they’re still younger and they haven’t retired yet, trying asking them, “I’d love to get an idea of what you think your retirement is going to look like. What does that look like for you?” Or maybe, if they’re already in retirement, in general ask, “Mom and Dad, how’s retirement going for you? Are you loving it? Is it as good as you thought it was going to be?” And they might say, “No, it’s been really difficult.” Or they might kind of avoid the topic a little bit. And it’s a touchy subject, but you can trying talking about some of those end of life things. Come at it like, “Mom and Dad, I want to know what your wishes are. If you ever need any sort of care, I want to be able to provide that sort of care that you want.” Not, “Mom and Dad, let’s talk about your finances.” So, don’t make the conversation about money. Talk about bigger picture issues and then if they’re willing to talk about that, kind of slip the financial side of things into your questions.
Alright, so parents could feel like it’s a taboo subject. I loved how you likened this subject to sex. Our parents oftentimes didn’t even want to talk about sex or maybe they gave you a book. But now, “Let’s not even talk about money.” It seems like we’re living in a culture now though, thirty years later, where it’s a bit more open and we’re talking. How about yourself? How do you talk to your kids about money these days? How have you brought that up in the context of your home?
We’re very open. And it’s okay, I don’t mind talking about the sex aspect, it’s actually really funny. The website that I write for, GOBankingRates, I had them do a survey on talking to parents about money. The crazy thing is, they found that about ten percent of adults would rather talk to their parents about their parent’s romantic life, than talk to them about their finances.
That is not the case with me. There’s no way.
I know, who wants to talk to their parents about their sex life more than they would want to talk to them about money? I mean, that’s crazy to me. That blows my mind that they think money is so taboo, that they’d rather talk about their parent’s romantic life. The thing is, our parents might have given us that book so they wouldn’t have to have that conversation. Years later, we’re married, we have kids now, we figured it out even if our parents didn’t tell us. But here’s what I want to point out: if you don’t have this conversation with your parents, you’re not going to figure out their financial situation in the same way we figured out how to have kids of our own. It just doesn’t work that way.
Yeah, you’ll never figure it out. It’ll be too late.
No, you’ll never figure it out. And certainly, you can let your parents know that you realize that this is an uncomfortable topic for them. “I realize this is uncomfortable for you to talk about, but it’s going to be so much more uncomfortable and so much more difficult if we don’t have these conversations and an emergency arises. At that point, we’d be too stressed out. We’d be too emotional.” The last thing you want to talk about at that time is your finances.
Let’s talk about a worst case scenario because I know you alluded to it earlier in our conversation. Worst case scenario; let’s just say that parents are divorced so they have separate accounts. I don’t even know what the legalities are and I don’t even know if they’re different in every state but you were opening my mind up to all kinds of questions. So, let’s just say they become incapacitated in some way and they’re not of sound mind. Whether it’s a car accident or they have a stroke or they have dementia or whatever it might be. These are things I hadn’t even thought of, but they’re not able to pay their bills. So, now their bills are racking up or a check didn’t get deposited. Can’t I just call the cellphone company and say, “Hi, my name is David. I’d like to pay my parents bill”?
No, they’re not even going to talk to you. I have a great example in my book of a friend of mine, his name is Doug. He’s a super financially savvy guy and he lived states away from his father. His father was a widower and when he started realizing that his dad was having trouble with his memory, he gently tried to broach the topic, but his dad pushed back. And rather than continue the conversation, he dropped it. His dad’s dementia got worse and Doug gets a call in the middle of the night from the hospital, that his dad is there and he has to get emergency surgery. His dad ends up in a nursing home to recover and Doug has no way to pay his father’s bills because his father never named Doug his power of attorney.
Doug reaches out to the bank and the bank says, “I’m sorry, we don’t even want to talk to you because you’re not your father’s power of attorney.” Doug has to go to court to get what is called a ‘Conservatorship’ for his father. He has to get a neuropsychiatrist to evaluate his dad and spend thousands of dollars on that evaluation. And then he has to get the doctor to testify in court. He basically had to put his father on trial to prove that he is no longer competent. Could you imagine having to do that? Can you imagine having to put your parent on trial to prove that they are incompetent and that they can’t manage their finances anymore?
He had to spend money on court fees, hiring an attorney for himself and his dad and pay for the doctor. All the while, he’s having to pay his father’s bills out of his own pocket because he can’t access his father’s accounts. He had to go through background checks and interviews to get named conservator. When he finally got approved, it took nine months. He spent ten thousand dollars and a total of twenty-five thousand dollars paying those bills, before he could finally get access to his dad’s accounts and get reimbursed for the money that he spent. And then also, every year after that, he had to file a report with the court saying how he spent his dad’s money.
Because he hadn’t gotten the initial power of attorney?
Yes, exactly. So, for example, I am my mom’s power of attorney, I don’t have to file a report with the court system every year. I just have to reach out to all her financial institutions, let them know I’m her power of attorney and send in that document. Sometimes I have to fill out their own documents but it’s so much easier. I know people might say, “Oh, well it’s expensive. I have to pay for those documents. I have to pay to get the power of attorney, the healthcare power of attorney.” Yes, you’re going to spend a few hundred dollars, maybe a thousand dollars or a little bit more depending on the complexity of your estate plan. But that’s not ten thousand dollars. That’s not twenty-five thousand dollars. It’s a whole lot cheaper. It’s a whole lot easier to get those documents in place because once something happens, if you have a stroke, you have dementia, you’re in that car accident and you can’t make decisions on your own, it’s too late.
What happens to a family that perhaps doesn’t have the financial means to spend ten thousand dollars and pay the bills out of pocket? What happens in that kind of situation?
They go into debt.
The person who is incapacitated? Or, the kids?
The kids. The person who’s incapacitated, they can’t pay those bills. They’re no longer able to and if the kids don’t have the power of attorney, the kids are going to have to go into debt. They’re going to have to rack up the credit card bills. They’re going to have to raid their retirement savings to pay those bills until they finally have access to their parent’s accounts to reimburse themselves. The thing is too, maybe the parents don’t even have the financial well-being in the first place to cover those bills.
If you had had these conversations sooner, you might have been able to realize that your parents were struggling. At that point you could have created a plan for how you’re going to deal with these situations. “Okay, Mom and Dad, I know that you couldn’t afford this sort of thing, let me take steps to maybe build up my savings now. Let me talk to my siblings, so we can all have a plan together, so that no one is going to suffer financially. Or at least we can limit that financial suffering.”
You just mentioned siblings. I’m an only child, that means I don’t have to worry about the siblings, but that also means I carry all the weight. If somebody has multiple siblings, how do they initiate that conversation with their siblings? What would you suggest? This is all in the book, by the way. It’s outlined in great detail and I know I mentioned this in the intro, but just as a reminder to you guys, it’s called Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations with Your Parents About Their Finances. It comes out June 25, 2019, no matter when you’re listening to this. Even though you sent me a digital copy, I ordered a hardcopy just to support you and because I want to hold it in my hands.
So, back to siblings. How should we approach talking with siblings?
It is so important if you have brothers or sisters, to talk to them really before you even talk to your parents. You guys all want to get on the same page. You want to figure out who’s going to imitate the conversation with mom and dad. Maybe it’s all of you. Maybe it’s one of you. You’re going to figure out in advance, what roles you want to play going forward. Maybe you say, “Okay, we’re all going to sit down and talk to Mom and Dad, but you, Jane, are going to be the person who is going to head everything up. You’re going to let Mom and Dad know that you’re willing to be the power of attorney and the healthcare power of attorney. That you’re willing to be the one to help them with their finances. I, because I live closer to Mom and Dad, I’m going to be the one who maybe is going to help them get to doctor’s appointments. I’m going to be the one that helps them if they need care.” If you can divide up the roles, no one has to take on all the responsibility. There will be less resentment. Sometimes that’s not possible. My sister lives states away from me, so she can’t help with the caregiving from my mother.
How convenient that she moved away.
She’s so lucky, isn’t she? She’s off the hook. But the thing is, we talk about these things and that’s so important for me. Because I am managing my mom’s finances, I let my sister in on what I’m doing, so that there isn’t any suspicion about how I’m handling my mom’s money. So, that there’s not any resentment on her part and there’s not any resentment on my part. Maybe she can’t physically help my mother and maybe she’s not the one who’s having to handle all her finances, but I can go to her and talk to her and let some steam off, “Oh, my gosh. This has been so difficult. Do you have any suggestions?” And she’s there for me. So, talk to your siblings, because sometimes you’ll find out, if you don’t have these conversations before an emergency happens and suddenly you all have a difference of opinion on how to handle things, then fights break out.
There was someone I interviewed for the book, there were three of them and their father wasn’t in good health, but they didn’t think to talk to their mom beforehand about what she was going to do after their father died and where she was going to live. Once dad died, suddenly there was this panic, “What are we going to do with Mom? Where is she going to live?” And they were fighting. One of them said, “Mom should be in a retirement community where she didn’t have the responsibility of caring for a home or a yard. The other one wanted mom to stay in their childhood home. The other one wanted mom to be closer to him. It didn’t end well. Mom moved into a house that wasn’t right for her and now she’s going back to the daughter and saying, “I should have listened to you. I should have moved into the retirement community.” The kids all along were having fights and a lot of this could have been avoided if the kids, as soon as they saw that dad’s health was declining, started talking about, “What can we do that will be best for Mom?”
Your mom is still alive, is that correct?
She’s still alive. She’s in assisted living.
I know that has been a very challenging experience for you. You start out the book by saying that you wrote it in large part to help people avoid having the experience that you have had. I just think it’s a beautiful gift that you have given the world. I mean, that’s a very challenging situation with your mom. Nobody would want that for anyone. And yet, at the same time, what a beautiful gift that has emerged for the rest of the world out of that whole experience. I just appreciate your willingness to give birth to that gift for other people. It’s a super beautiful gift.
You mentioned earlier that we should not say, “How much are we getting?” Okay, that’s step number one; don’t ask that. Step number two, what other things should we avoid saying?
David, I know that throughout your career and your coaching, you’ve focused a lot on relationships, right? Couples. You probably know that when you are talking to your partner or spouse and you’re upset about something, you don’t want to come to them and say “You.”
“You made me mad.”
“You did this wrong.”
“You should be doing this.”
You want to use “I” language, and you want to use “I” language when you’re talking to your parents as well. “I am concerned. It would give me peace of mind if we can have this conversation.” Not, “You should tell me.” You say, “I”.
You want to be careful though, because again, you don’t want to look like you’re only thinking about yourself;
“I am concerned about your wellbeing, Mom and Dad.”
“I’m concerned about how things will be for you when you’re in retirement.”
“I’m concerned about what should happened if there is an emergency and I or my siblings have to care for you.”
So, “I want to have peace of mind and I want you to have peace of mind and that’s why I think we need to have these conversations and plan.”
Alright, so “I” statements are huge. It seems like even writing some of this down ahead of time, the thought process. I know for me, that would be helpful. You talk about this in the book and it’s an incredible idea. You want us to think about the outcome that we want to have from the conversation and being clear about that.
Yes, and it’s important to think about this when you talk to your siblings as well. Because you’re going into that conversation and you guys all are on different pages about mom and dad and the type of care you think they should get or where they should live. Certainly, when you go into that conversation, think about, “Why are we having this conversation?” The answer is, “Because we care about Mom and Dad.” So, think about what you hope to get out of the conversation.
They might want something different from you, but then you bring it all back to, “Okay, you want this. I want this. But we need to think about Mom and Dad.” And so, writing down what you hope to get out of the conversation with your siblings and what you hope to get out of the conversation with your parents, helps you get clear. And it can also help you remember what the point of this conversation is. Like I said, you don’t want to go in and say, “You should do this.” You certainly don’t want to be condescending with your parents and if they’re already older and you see that they’re having some issues, maybe mom and dad have gotten those scam calls and you’re concerned but also a little upset because you’re like, “Oh, my gosh. Come on. Don’t they have a clue that these people are just trying to take their money?” So, you don’t want to take a situation like that and come in and say, “Mom and Dad, come on! Don’t you realize these people are just trying to scam you?” That’s the last thing you want to say. You want to think about in the same way you’d think about it if your kids came to you and had this conversation. How would you want them to talk to you?
That’s a great way to say it.
Maybe mom and dad aren’t doing so well anymore, maybe they’re not making good financial decisions. But you don’t want to point that out. You don’t want to be condescending. You don’t want to talk down to them. You don’t even want to talk to them in the way that you might talk to a small child, “Oh, Mom and Dad. I know things are kind of getting a little more difficult for you now.” No, don’t talk to them that way at all. Talk to them the way you want your kids to talk to you. Show them respect. They are still your parents. Do not get frustrated. Take a deep breath. It’s like talking to a teenager sometimes. You have teenagers. It can be very difficult. It can be very frustrating, but as soon as you let your temper get the best of you, you know those conversations are going to go downhill.
They’re over. They are over.
They’re over, exactly. Take the same approach with your parents. Because you know what? They might still be thinking of you as that unruly teen who didn’t listen to them. You could be a successful forty-something, but in their eyes, you’re still that 16 year old who stayed out past curfew.
Or wasted money.
Or wasted money and they’re like, “Who are you to tell me about how to spend my money?”
“I know I made some mistakes Mom and Dad, but I’ve learned from those mistakes and I want to help make sure what I’ve learned, I can share that with you. I certainly don’t know more than you, Mom and Dad. But I have learned some things over the years and I want to share these things that I’ve learned.”
You’ve given us some tips along the way but I want to ask real specifically on some ways to start the conversation. You talked about, “What are your plans for retirement?” “How is retirement going?” What are some other kind of nuanced ways to get into this conversation?
One of the best ways to start these conversations is to use a story. So, you’re listening to this podcast now and you go to Mom and Dad and you say, “Hey, Mom and Dad. I was listening to this podcast and there was a woman talking about how her mother developed Alzheimer’s and she had not talked to her before her mom started losing her memory. And then as she saw that her mom was having trouble remembering things and she really had to scramble because she didn’t know anything about her mom’s finances. She didn’t know what sort of accounts she had. She didn’t know whether she had all the legal documents in place. And because she had waited to have these conversations, it was really difficult for her. She really had to put together the pieces of her mom’s finances like it was a puzzle and she didn’t know what that final picture was supposed to look like. I want to make sure that we never end up in a situation like that, Mom and Dad.”
Everyone has a story. You’ve got someone at work maybe, who had to stop working to care for a parent. You’ve got a friend whose father died and was in a second marriage and didn’t have a will and now the kids are fighting over who gets what. And even if you don’t have your own story, you can borrow one. Or, and this might sound a little bit sleazy, but I really promise you it’s not; you can make up a story. You can make up a story to fit the sort of information that you want to get from your parents. Don’t think of it as lying, think of it as starting a very important conversation that you need to have.
Oh, man. Starting this conversation, I’m just thinking about it already. Okay, so we’ve gotten into all the ways to start the conversation and what not to say. We haven’t even talked about what you need to know. The beauty is, that’s probably two thirds of the book. At least half of the book are all of the things that you would need to know from your parents and you break it down so beautifully. You give an outline of all those things and then you go step by step in each chapter, of all the things that you need to know and what you need to do.
Give people a taste of what’s in the book, because I’m telling you, if you’re listening to this podcast, you cannot just take what you’ve heard here and run with it. You’ve got to get this book because it has so much information in it in terms of what you need to talk to your parents about. You mentioned power of attorney. For somebody who doesn’t even know what that is, what does that mean?
Power of attorney is a document and it’s best to meet with an attorney to have this document drafted. There are documents that you can get online. You can download from a website such as www.nolo.com. It’s a cheaper option, but really, I do think it’s worth the money to meet with someone who does this day in and day out to make sure you’ve covered everything.
How do I find them? Do I just Google “Power of Attorney” and the name of my city?
You want to find an estate planning attorney. So, that’s what you’re going to Google, “Estate Planning Attorney”. Ask friends, “Hey, have you had a will done? Have you had a power of attorney drawn up?” And maybe you’ve done it yourself and you can suggest that your parents meet with the attorney you meet with. Power of attorney is a document that lets you name someone to make financial decisions for you if you no longer can. You want to reassure your parents that just because they name you or a sibling or maybe it’s a close family friend, that doesn’t mean that they can step in and start controlling your finances right away.
You can tell your parents, “Mom and Dad, you hang onto this document. You tell me where to find it if something happens and I need to step in and start managing your finances for you. You don’t have to give it to me right now.” Because the thing is, if you are named your parents power of attorney, unless you have that document, it’s not going to do you any good. You can’t just call up the bank and say, “I’m my Mom and Dad’s power of attorney.” They’re going to want to see the document. So, your parents don’t even have to give it to you. They just have to tell you where it is. If they’re worried if you’re going to get into their bank account and start stealing money from them, which hopefully you are a very responsible, honest child, who wants to help your parents and you’re going to not do that. But if your parents are a little bit concerned, tell them, “Mom and Dad, take this document. Have it drafted. Put it someplace safe and tell me where to access.”
There’s also the healthcare power of attorney. Often these documents are called an Advanced Directive or a living will. Not only do they let you name someone to make healthcare decisions for you if you can’t, they spell out your final wishes; what sort of life-support you do or do not want. This is so important because if it’s not in writing, then if something happens, if you’re in a coma, the last thing you want is for your loved ones to have to make this decision for you. It’s a terrible position to put anyone in. You want to make sure your parents have this document; the Advanced Directive or the living will, as it’s called. Make sure they also have a will.
I’ve stated in my will that I want to live in a vegetative state as long as possible, drawing upon the emotional wellbeing of my kids and just having them feeling guilty and horrible for the rest of their lives.
And spending all your money and all their money to keep you on life-support. Exactly. We all want that. We all want that.
Okay, so power of attorney, medical power of attorney – is that what you said?
Healthcare power of attorney. It’s usually called an Advanced Directive or a living will, and a will. If you’re going to find out anything from your parents, you want to find out if they have these three estate planning documents because they are so, so important. And as I already explained, you have to be competent when you sign these documents. So, if you can find this out, this is the key information that you need.
But you also want to get a general sense of how they’re doing financially. And start with that. “How are things going in retirement?” Or, “What does your retirement look like for you?” This will give you a good idea of where they stand financially. If you can just ask these sorts of question, they might say, “Well, you know, we saved really well for retirement and it’s paying off for us because we’re not having any issues paying our bills.” Or, “It’s been really tough because we’re just relying on Social Security and we’re not sure if we’re going to be able to afford the house.” And then that’s a red flag for you. “We need to start talking more about what we can do going forward. Maybe you need to move into a smaller house. Maybe we need to talk about whether you need to move in with us.” You want to find out how they pay their bills in case an emergency rises. Are the bills on auto-pay?
All the account information.
Yes, but also just in general. “Are you paying your bills by a check or are they getting paid automatically? Because Mom and Dad, if something happens to you, I need to know whether your electricity is going to stay on in your house. I need to know whether the mortgage is going to get paid. Or, I need to know whether I have to write a check and whether you’re giving me power of attorney to write those checks for you.” And then, dig into the details of their finances. Like you said, the accounts. “What accounts do you have? What sort of debt do you have? What sort of insurance do you have?” This is where they might resist a little bit more because this is really sensitive and personal information. You don’t have to say, “Give it to me.” Instead say, “Make a list. Write it down and put it someplace safe so that I can access it if I need it.” I will tell you this, I do know parents who give their kids this information. They give them an updated spreadsheet every six months. There are parents out there who do it. Most parents don’t, but if you can at least get them to write it down, put it someplace safe and tell you where it is, then you are in such a great position in case they do need your help.
And you have a comprehensive list in the back of the book that I just love. It’s a list of all these things that you should really be thinking of. So, it’s not like you have to sit down and think of, “What should I be knowing?” When you get the book, you get the list. It’s a great resource.
Okay, last question, I’m going to put you on the spot here. I mentioned this in the intro, you and I knew each other for two years in high school. That’s it. Freshman and sophomore year because I moved away from Kentucky to California. I don’t even think we went to middle school together, but I’m going to say you were the nicest person in all of high school. Which I’m sure you’ve heard probably your entire life. Have you heard that your entire life, “You’re the nicest person ever”?
I don’t know if I’ve heard that I’m the nicest person ever. I really appreciate the complement. I mean, people have said that I’m nice. I don’t know if they’ve said, “Nicest person ever,” though.
Oh, yeah, the nicest person ever. Okay, so I’m going to put you on the spot. What do you remember from two years of high school with me? What do you remember about me? It could be anything. It could be one word.
You were a skateboarder.
Yeah, that’s true.
You were a photographer, right?
You were already shooting pictures then. I feel like we went to junior high together too.
Maybe we did. Bowling Green Junior High School, you went there?
Okay, so we were there together.
Yes, but you know, here’s the funny thing though; I felt like you were there with me longer in high school. I felt like it was more than just two years.
I do. Because I feel like I knew you well enough that it had to be longer than that.
I think one of my biggest disappointments in high school was the three times you turned me down to go to prom. That was painful.
No, that’s not true. Because if you left at the end of your sophomore year, we couldn’t have even gone to prom. You’re making that up.
I know, believe me, I was not out on the dance floor. I was on the side with a camera, thank God. I’m not a big dancer.
Cameron, incredible book. I really am deeply impressed by this. Everybody needs to get it. I know these questions are not new. People have been dealing with this for tons of years, but they’re new to me because of my age and where my parents are. And so, I appreciate your investment of putting this together. Really great job.
Thank you. I really want people to realize how important these conversations are because most people don’t. We don’t think about it. We’re so worried about even staying on top of our own finances, the last thing we’re thinking about is our parents’ finances. I know these conversations can be difficult but if you don’t have them, the consequences of not having them are so much worse. They really are. I encourage everyone to get past their fears. Of course, buy my book. It’ll help you do that hopefully. And start having these conversations.
Absolutely. Alright, the name of the book, Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations with Your Parents About Their Finances. That is a great title by the way. It’s available June 25th on Amazon. Don’t wait to buy it on June 25th, buy it now because it helps the book in terms of its rankings. You should definitely get it right away. Thanks so much, Cameron.
Thank you, David.