Talking About Aging With Parents: The Big 4

Talking about aging with parents can be one of those difficult conversations we want to put off for another day. Like other difficult conversations, though, avoidance usually makes it harder.

Transitions in aging can fall into four broad categories (Big 4), none of which are fun to talk or think about: turning over financial matters; making health care decisions; changing living arrangements; and transportation.

Factor in social distancing and the chance to have the tough talks gets even harder.

Helping Parents With Finances Amid Coronavirus

In her article [], Veronica Dagher interviewed financial advisors and aging experts on how to help parents with finances from a distance.

The downside of the digital age is that it makes seniors more susceptible to fraud and scams. They can send or spend money anywhere, or divulge sensitive information, with one click. Without being physically present, adult children might not be as quick to catch the warning signs that a parent has become susceptible.

As long as parents and family members are in agreement, there is much that can be done digitally to help, especially with the right documentation in place.

Start Early, Small, and Often

Instead of thinking of the Big Four as one future difficult conversation, experts recommend thinking of each topic as a continuous conversation to be had over a number of months or years. Following are some pointers for adult children.

Start the conversation with curiosity. “Mom/Dad, if you should ever reach the point where you’re unable to (balance your checkbook, drive on the interstate, feel confident about a medical decision, feel comfortable living on your own), what would you like to have happen?” “What would be an example of something that would indicate the point at which you would like help?”

Listen intently. Even if it is not what you would like, check for understanding by repeating back what you heard. For example, “So what I hear you saying is that, if you have a fall, that’s when you’ll ask for help. Is that true?” Sometimes when we hear things back, we change our minds, or clarify.

With the pandemic having a disproportionate effect on seniors, many more conversations like this are taking place. However, as Dagher points out, some parents may still be resistant. In that case, it’s best not to push. Give them space and time to consider it further.

Things You Can Do Now

As noted in the article, one of the most important documents you can have in place is a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA). If the DPOA is more than a few years old, or there has been a change in health status, it would be worthwhile to have the DPOA reviewed by an elder law attorney to make sure the powers granted in it are up to date with current law, and broad enough.

Since so much of our financial lives are online, it’s also wise for a parent to share emails, userids, and passwords with the person named as DPOA. Ideally, all of the financial institutions where a parent has accounts would have copies of the DPOA and confirm they recognize it as valid.

While the DPOA covers financial and legal matters, it does not address health care decisions. For those, another document is needed, often called a health care proxy or Designation of Health Care Surrogate. With Covid-19, family members may not be allowed in the hospital. Should an emergency happen, the health care proxy, as well as any living will, DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), or DNH (Do Not Hospitalize) documents should be provided to paramedics and/or hospital staff.

For a free resource specifically addressing the talk about end-of-life care, see The Conversation Project, at

These are difficult scenarios to think about or talk about, so the most important thing that can be done now is to begin simply with a single step. Whether you are the parent of adult children, or the adult child of an aging parent, it’s never too early to broach the topic, but it can be too late. Rather than waiting until it’s a near-certain, large possibility, start while it’s merely a far-in-the-future, small one. That kind of talk will be a lot easier.

Holly Donaldson

Holly Donaldson, CFP® runs an hourly and fee-for-service financial planning practice virtually from her Tampa Bay, Florida office. She also works with clients throughout the U.S. (except Texas) interested in retirement and tax planning advice without product sales or investment management. Holly is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch."

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