Rob Clark BA (Econ.), CFP®, MBA
It’s never been easy discussing financial matters with family members, whether talking to your parents or adult children. But quite often, there’s one important reason to gather your courage and have the money talk. If you don’t address the issue when it’s on your mind, you may allow problems to develop down the road.
Here are just a couple of scenarios illustrating how communication makes a difference.
Say an individual believes their recently retired parent, living alone, should get a power of attorney (protection mandate in Quebec) – but the individual is hesitant, thinking their parent may resist. What if this discussion never takes place, and the parent eventually suffers a significant cognitive decline without having a power of attorney? First, the individual would need to navigate their province’s sometimes arduous process to apply for and receive control over their parent’s financial affairs. Second, conflict may arise if this individual is not the only person who wants to apply.
Or, take the case of a parent whose child is starting their first year of college or university. The parent wants to discuss budgeting and financial responsibility, but worries that their child, now a young adult, might perceive the talk as a lecture. Let’s say the talk doesn’t happen, the child gets a student credit card and treats the credit limit as free money. Now, on top of handling a full course load, the student must contend with budget headaches.
Situations when a money talk can avoid future troubles are almost endless – from discussing which family members will help fund a wedding to warning elderly parents about fraud scams. It’s usually easy to tell when you’re in a situation calling for a talk – it’s the next step that takes strategy.
So, how do you broach this delicate subject? The first decision is whether to raise the topic casually when you happen to be together, or set a time and place to hold a more formal talk.
When the moment arrives, you can take the bold approach and simply state the subject – done. Or you can be open about your apprehension, saying that you feel awkward talking about this. When possible, you can ease in by citing a related situation involving a friend, relative or someone you both know, then segue into the issue.
If the matter is involved and overwhelming, you might try a series of small chats – one item at a time. If you have a sibling and you’re talking to a parent, it might be easier if you and your sibling share the task.
What’s most important is that you give it some thought, so the approach you choose suits you, your family member(s) and the subject at hand.