Mistletoe and red flags

Laurie MacNaughton © 2019

During the holiday season many of us will spend more face-to-face time with aging parents than we typically do. Consequently, in addition to the turkey, gifts, and mistletoe, this season can be a chance to spot red flags that may indicate it’s time to talk with parents about their finances.

Because unaddressed upkeep is often a money issue, deferred home repairs can be a big tip-off, especially if your parents historically have been timely with maintenance. Items seemingly as insignificant as dripping faucets, water rings on the ceiling, or an untended yard may be significant warning signs.

Unopened bills, especially if a parent has been ill, can be a dead giveaway. I once asked a homeowner about a laundry basket filled with mail, and she simply replied, “They’re bills.” For many of us an avalanche of doctors’ bills is disheartening, but if you’re living on a fixed income, medical bills can be outright paralyzing.

A third sign of potential money problems can be evidence of new credit – either an equity line or new credit cards. In the retirement years credit can be hard to come by, and newly-acquired cards may have extremely high interest rates.

Other, potentially more advanced red flags include a rash of strange phone calls, junk mail from debt-restructuring services, and late notices.

Taken alone, any of these signs may be nothing – or they may mean big trouble. You won’t know until you ask. And just like the other talk, the “money talk” can be awkward. In fact, according to a recent survey nearly three quarters of adult children have not talked with their parents about finances, and most report the topic is “uncomfortable.” Many helpful discussion guides are available through a simple online search.

By way of an abrupt aside, I have been on both sides of the money conversation: when my parents were ailing I falteringly addressed their finances. They were typical members of the Silent Generation for whom money discussions were taboo, so the conversation was barely this side of tortured. Then I encountered my own health issues and wanted to discuss my finances with my young adult daughters. Though my daughters and I are extremely close, this was clearly not a fun topic for them. In other words, I don’t have a magic formula for making this conversation un-weird.

But, as with most things in life, discussing financial matters can be handled in one of two ways: before there’s a crisis, or after a crisis has already occurred. During the course of any given week I talk with many families, and I can assure you pre-crisis planning is better – much better.

So, while you prepare to enjoy this holiday season with aging family members, consider also preparing to discuss their financial matters. It will save both you and your parents an untold amount of stress down the road.

And, if you would like to discuss how a reverse mortgage might help your parents with their financing needs in retirement, give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

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