One of the toughest transitions into adulthood is when you realize that you need to help your parents instead of the other way around.
Add money into the mix, and that can make an already awkward transition feel even more uncomfortable. Money is often a taboo topic in families, and parents sometimes have trouble letting go of the idea that you are a child rather than someone who can help them with financial planning. It may feel easier to just assume Mom and Dad have everything covered for their financial future, and let the chips fall where they may.
But helping your parents prepare for retirement is one of the best gifts you can give the people who raised you. That’s because even the most financially savvy planners may run into issues, questions, or problems that they are not sure how to handle. You can help your parents get ready for retirement, and grow closer in the process.
Here’s what you need to know about helping your parents retire.
Prioritize your own retirement savings
Most parents know that it’s smarter to save for retirement before putting money into the kids’ college funds. After all, students can take out loans for school, but there are no loans for retirement. Adult children should prioritize retirement savings over paying for their parents’ retirement needs.
It may seem strange to prioritize your own retirement as a part of helping your parents retire, but it’s an important first step in financially protecting your entire family. Taking care of your parents’ retirement instead of saving for your own means that you will simply be passing money problems from one generation to the next. By putting your own retirement savings first, you are teaching your kids how to responsibly plan for their own financial futures.
Being prepared to have your parents use their assets for as long as they last will also allow you to make the best use of programs like Medicaid, which requires long-term care recipients to have exhausted their own assets before it kicks in. Rather than exhaust your own finances, plan to protect your future retirement so your kids are not left with another tough decision in 30 years.
Introduce the initial conversation
To be able to help your parents retire, you need to know where they stand financially so you can best help them fill in the gaps and prepare for that major transition. If you’re lucky, your parents have already looped you in on what they have saved, where it is, what plans they have for the future, and who they trust as their financial adviser to make the decisions. (See also: 6 Things You’ll Encounter When Taking Over a Loved One’s Finances)
Where it gets tricky is if your parents shut down any money conversations and change the subject to “something more pleasant.” If you know your parents will not feel comfortable talking openly about their money planning with you, frame the conversation as an opportunity for you to learn together.
For instance, you might mention that you want to look over your 401(k) information and would love to chat with them about how they handle their retirement accounts. In addition, you could invite them to read a book with you about financial planning so you can use the information as a jumping off point for personal discussion.
Talk about the day-to-day details
Knowing where your parents hope to live and how they intend to spend their time in retirement will give you (and them) a baseline understanding of how much they will need in retirement. Encourage Mom and Dad to talk about how they want their lives to look in retirement. Do they want to stay in place, move closer to grandchildren, or sell everything and live in an RV?
In addition to helping you get a better sense of their financial needs in retirement, these conversations will also help your parents enjoy the anticipation of planning for retirement.
Learn more about Social Security and Medicare
While spending an afternoon navigating Social Security and Medicare’s websites is no one’s idea of fun, taking the time to determine your parents’ eligibility for these programs can help you better understand what to expect from their government entitlements. You and your parents can check out the eligibility questionnaires at Medicare.gov and Benefits.gov to find out what benefits are available and whether your parents qualify.
Meet with a financial adviser
No one expects you (or your parents!) to know everything about the complexities of planning for retirement. Together with your parents, take the time to interview and hire a financial adviser to help with the details of building your parents’ retirement.
A financial adviser is also in a good position to help your parents make sure their estate planning is up-to-snuff and that all of their accounts have properly named beneficiaries. Even if Mom and Dad are uncomfortable talking about these issues with you — who wants to think about their own deaths, after all? — having a trusted financial adviser can help make sure they have all the necessary estate planning paperwork in place.
If money conversations are uncomfortable, you might feel like having that single afternoon of financial planning with your parents is sufficient. But checking in with your parents regularly is an essential part of helping them prepare for retirement. This lets them know you are there to help them with any difficult issues or decisions.
Continuing the conversation can also help protect your parents against scams. According to a 2015 True Link Financial report on financial elder abuse, annual losses from elder fraud totaled over $36 billion. By staying connected with your parents and offering to help them with financial decisions, they will be less likely to fall victim to a predatory scammer because you will be there to help sniff out anything untoward.
Paying it back to Mom and Dad
Your parents took care of you throughout your childhood (and maybe a little into adulthood, too). Now it’s your turn to look out for them. Give your parents the gift of some help with retirement planning, so they can relax and enjoy the end of their career and the beginning of the next phase of their lives.