Helping an older parent with money

Ask NJMoneyHelp

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Q. When I visit my mom, who is 68, she always complains about money. But she won’t talk to me about what she has so I don’t know how to help her. What should I do?
— Worried

A. Money conversations are often the most difficult.

How you start the conversation is important.

Start by asking your mom what most concerns her about her financial situation, said Jody D’Agostini, a certified financial planner with AXA Advisors/The Falcon Financial Group in Morristown.

“Our attitudes and fears towards money often start in our youth, in what we saw and how we lived,” D’Agostini said. “Did your mother handle the finances in your home? If not, her fears may be of the unknown, and just getting a snapshot of what she has, where it is, and what it all means for her financially, could put her at ease.”

You didn’t mention if your mother is still working or not, but once people retire and are on a fixed income, their mindsets about money shift, D’Agostini said.

You could ask your mom how she envisions her retirement, and you can help her formulate what her goals and objectives are, for example, retiring and passing money on to heirs.

“This now has changed the conversation to something more forward looking and perhaps positive,” D’Agostini said. “You might like to add some of your own misgivings and mistakes that you’ve made in dealing with financial issues in the past. This might break down some of the barriers that have been established.”

Education could be the key into calming her fears, D’Agostini said.

All things start with a budget, so getting her an expense sheet or an online tool such as Quicken or Mint might help, she said.

Your mom should make a list of her potential sources of income such as her Social Security benefits, her non-retirement and retirement accounts, pensions and any real estate that she owns, D’Agostini said. Then, she should get a picture of any debts that she has including the outstanding principal and interest due monthly.

“The best outcome would be to show her a financial path where her financial future is intact and fully understood,” D’Agostini said. “Uncertainty often brings on much unneeded anxiety, whereas having a plan for the future can help her and you navigate the future together.”

If you don’t think she will have this conversation with you — or even if she will — she might want to enlist the help of an objective pro.

“Ask her if she has ever worked with or would be willing to work with a certified financial planner (CFP), who is trained to help individuals navigate personal finance and realize these goals,” D’Agostini said. “They will be able to assess the situation and make suggestions to achieve these goals.”

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NJMoneyHelp.com presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.