My mom had a major stroke, was bed ridden and could not speak for two and one half-years. My brother’s father-in-law needed the day-to-day care of his children and grandchildren for over five years. A close family friend has been caring for his widowed father for about four years. It is not certain how long that care will continue to be necessary – a day, a year, five years, ten years, more? I share that because another close family friend cared for her mother for nearly twenty years before she passed on in her late nineties.
Do you relate to the situation? Is this you or one of your family members or friends? I think there is an excellent chance you do or will soon. Why? Americans senior population is exploding. So, get yourself prepared.
The challenge of caring for one’s adult parents can be complex, stress-ridden, and even detrimental to you and your family’s health. And, it can be more consequential than that if you are unprepared and have not had “the talk” with your parents.
What many may not fully realize or appreciate is “caring for” elderly parents, probably also means managing their finances as well as having one or more legal authorizations to do so.
No one understands this like GOBankingRates personal finance columnist Cameron Huddleston. She has personal knowledge of the challenge. Cameron is living the situation right now with her mother. It has been a profound learning experience and one she generously shares in her new book: Mom and Dad We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations with Your Parents About Their Finances!
The book aims at making it easier for adult children to sensitively and successfully navigate this challenge. It gives readers the opportunity to leverage Huddleston’s knowledge and those of others she interviews who have steered through the nearly unescapable life situation. I contacted Cameron to learn more from the personal finance expert about the lessons and wisdom in the book.
Please give us a little background on yourself and how you got into personal finance as a writer? For example, was personal finance always a passion of yours or is it something you just stumbled into?
Writing about personal finance was something I stumbled into. I was a journalism and Russian studies double major in college and had dreams of being a foreign correspondent. But after spending some time in Russia, I gave up on this idea and got a job with a daily newspaper in my hometown. After moving to Washington, D.C., and working in a variety of journalism jobs, I decided to get a master’s degree in journalism — with a specialty in economic journalism — at American University. Unfortunately, when I graduated in 2001, the economy was headed into a recession. Dow Jones Newswires, where I had been working, had a hiring freeze — as did Bloomberg, where I really wanted to work. However, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance had an opening for an editor for its website. I had no experience writing about personal finance, but they took a chance on me. I ended up writing for Kiplinger.com for 14 years before becoming a columnist for GOBankingRates in 2015. I’m so grateful for the opportunity I was given because I’ve learned so much about personal finance. That knowledge has been invaluable in my everyday life.
Your new book is extraordinarily timely. How did the idea come to you for the book and what drove you to write and finish it?
While being interviewed a few years ago for the credit bureau Experian’s podcast, I talked about how I had been helping my mom out with her finances because she had Alzheimer’s disease. I told them I had regretted not talking with her about her finances until it was absolutely necessary when she started having memory problems and I knew I had to get involved. Both of the hosts wanted to know how they could start having conversations with their parents about their finances. After the interview ended, the two other people in the room told me they were going to need to start talking to their parents and wanted to know how.
That’s when I realized I needed to help others do what I should’ve done a lot sooner with my mom: have essential money conversations with their parents. I had to navigate this difficult process on my own, and I didn’t want others to have to do that. I wanted to give people a guide to help them get over their fears of having money talks with their parents, walk them through the process of having the conversation and give them tips on how to get through to reluctant parents. That’s how I decided to write Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations With Your Parents About Their Finances.
I found a literary agent, wrote a book proposal, then he shopped it around until we found a publisher that was interested — Wiley. Once I signed a deal with Wiley, I had about eight months to write the book. So, a deadline drove me to finish writing it quickly.
Please provide a short synopsis of the book and one or two of the major take aways from your perspective?
Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk helps people who are struggling to figure out how to talk to their parents about their finances get over their fears. It’s a must-have resource that guides readers through the process of having fruitful discussions with their parents by giving them:
-Hope that these conversations can happen without being uncomfortable or unproductive through stories from those who successfully had the “talk.”
-A variety of conversation starters and strategies for people whose parents are reluctant to open up.
-Advice on what not to say.
-A detailed list of information to gather from parents and explanation of what legal groundwork needs to be in place.
-Tips on talking about more difficult topics such as long-term care.
-Cautionary tales from people who didn’t have conversations with their parents.
Two major takeaways:
1. These conversations can’t wait until your parent already are having health problems or need help. At that point, it can be too late because the legal groundwork might not be laid for you to step in and help.
2. These conversations likely won’t be nearly as awkward as you think they might be if you make it clear to your parents that you want to talk with them about their finances because you’re looking out for their best interests.
Is there anything in the book, like financial statistics, that might shock or surprise readers to learn?
Many readers likely will be surprised to learn that they can’t legally get involved with their parents’ finances unless their parents have named them power of attorney. A power of attorney is someone you name to make financial decisions for you if you no longer are capable of making them yourself. You have to be mentally competent to sign this legal document. So if, say, your mom has a stroke and you want to write checks from her account to pay her bills while she’s in the hospital, you can’t unless she already has designated you as her power of attorney and you have the document to prove it. No financial institution will discuss your parent’s accounts with you or give you access to those accounts unless you are your parent’s power of attorney. And if a health issue has left your parent mentally incompetent, it’s too late for your parent to sign a document naming you power of attorney. At that point, you will have to go through a lengthy and expensive court process to become your parent’s conservator.
You also can’t make health care decisions for your parents unless they have named you their health care power of attorney. Typically, you name a healthy care power of attorney in an advance health care directive or living will — legal documents that must be signed while you still are competent.
Around what age range do you suggest kids start broaching the subject of finances with their parents?
Many people assume that these conversations can wait until their parents are having health issues, are well into retirement or ask for help. At this point, it can be too late. It’s not too early to start having these conversations with your parents when they are in their 50s. Ideally, you should be talking with them while they still are healthy. That way can talk about “what if” scenarios and make a plan for dealing with them. And, if possible, talk to them before they’ve even retired to get a sense of whether they’re financially prepared or if they need to start taking steps now to get in a better position financially before they retire. If you learn that they might have financial troubles as they age, you might need to prepare your own finances to help out your parents down the road.
How to Order Cameron’s Book
Talk to your parents today about their finances. Your whole family will be glad you did. Discover more about Cameron and pre-order her book at CameronHuddleston.com