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How can I get my aging parents to talk about money?

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By Karin Price Mueller/

Q. My parents are 70 and 72 and they are of sound mind. But they never want to talk about their finances, and I want to make sure they have enough because I can afford to help if they need it. How can I get them to talk?

-- Stumped

A. Lots of people don't like to talk about their finances.

It can be especially difficult with seniors because the conversation is often about more than just money.

Speaking about money with family makes some seniors very uncomfortable, said Jerry Lynch, a certified financial planner with JFL Total Wealth Management in Boonton, New Jersey.

And if you have siblings, asking about your parents' money could create a situation where someone feels you're trying to trying to control and take your parents' money, he said.

"This can create family issues that will never go away," Lynch said.

To avoid that, if possible, bring in help from the outside. A financial planner, estate attorney or Certified Public Account can be more objective and less threatening, Lynch said.

He recommends you go easy and if you have siblings, include them.

"Nobody likes admitting they are getting older -- including myself -- but it is important to start the conversation," Lynch said. "See if your siblings can help. Having a consistent approach from the family really helps."

Lynch recommends you start the conversation gently.

"I would throw out something like this: 'Mom and Dad, I am very fortunate where if you need my help in the future, I can help. I just want to know if I should keep this money available for you,'" Lynch said.

Depending on how that goes, you may want to ask them about legal documents, he said.

"Don't start with the will. Start with the medical power of attorney, which they both need to authorize medical care for each other," Lynch said. "Starting with the will seems like you are looking for their money."

If they have medical power of attorney, find out who they've chosen as the backups to make decisions on their behalves.

If your parents don't have legal documents, this conversation is a great opportunity to have them meet with a very good estate attorney who will bring up these issues to them in a much more objective way.

"A good estate attorney is a full-time estate attorney, not a real estate/general practice attorney that can also do wills," Lynch said. "Generally full-time estate attorneys will focus on tax, estate and elder care law and will ask great questions. Those questions will help you better help your parents."

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