How To Talk With an Older Adult About Legal and Financial Matters

How To Talk With an Older Adult About Legal and Financial Matters

Starting To Talk About Finances


Most people say it's important to talk about finances but put off actually having those conversations with family or others close to them. Discussing finances early can increase peace of mind, as you understand needs, options and plans.


Before you talk with the older adult, ask yourself:

  • What are my specific concerns about the older adult's current finances, financial decisions or future plans?
  • What have I seen or heard that makes me have these concerns?
  • What don't I know? What assumptions might I be making?
  • What might be important to the older adult that I haven't considered?
  • Am I trying to convince the older adult to do what I think is best? Am I open to other possibilities?


Set a small goal for your first conversation. For example, your goal could be to learn about the older adult's bank and credit card accounts, or to find out if the older adult has a financial advisor. Good conversation starters include financial-related facts, friends' or family members' experiences, or news stories. For example:

  • "I heard that Lucas died without a will and it caused a lot of issues for the family. Have you drawn up a will, or thought about it?"
  • "I read in the news that financial exploitation of older adults is on the rise. Does your bank send alerts about suspicious account activity?"
  • "Aunt Sarah said talking to a financial advisor really helped her. Are you interested in doing that? Should we ask who Sarah went to?"


Be honest about your reasons for wanting to discuss financial issues with the older adult. Acknowledge that the older adult might see the situation differently. During the conversation, focus on understanding the older adult's point of view. Don't push for decisions or actions right away. Don't try to cover too much in your first discussion. Try to end on a positive note. If you can, agree on next steps with the older adult, like having another conversation or going over documents together.


Responding to Negative Reactions During Conversations About Finances


Sometimes discussions about finances can bring up strong emotions. Older adults might be intimidated by financial professionals, confused by Medicaid or Medicare, or embarrassed to admit they've been a victim of fraud or other financial exploitation. Well-meaning questions might sound like you're prying or questioning older adults' abilities.


During difficult discussions, do your best to calmly and clearly share your thoughts, using phrases like, "I am concerned" or "My feelings are." Focus on what you can agree on and how you can work together on financial tasks. Listen carefully to what the older adult says. Remember that what you're talking about probably affects the older adult's life more than yours.


You and the older adult might have different ways of speaking or thinking about finances.


Financial discussions can be difficult when:

  • You disagree about whether there is a financial problem, or what the problem is.
  • You disagree about what's most important. For example, you might want to plan for possible long-term care needs, while the older adult is focused on today's bills.
  • You disagree about what's a good solution.
  • You use or hear words differently, so that you say and mean X, but the older adult hears Y.
  • You have different communication or decision-making styles.
  • You want different people to be involved when you discuss finances, or have different interpretations of what financial or legal professionals said.
  • How you respond to each other is shaped by family patterns or social roles.


If the older adult has a negative reaction, it can help to ask why. Try to understand the older adult's point of view. Focus on the older adult's wishes and goals. If the older adult doesn't want to discuss it, don't push. You might need to agree to disagree on some things. It's usually better to drop the subject and discuss it again later. If you understand why the last conversation was difficult, you might be able to find a different way to approach the topic next time.


Keeping the Financial Conversation Going


Your follow-up conversations can help you and the older adult work together on financial tasks. Follow-up conversations can be good opportunities to:

  • Share and discuss new information
  • Weight the pros and cons of different options
  • Ask if the older adult's needs or feelings have changed
  • Involve professionals, family or friends whose opinions you both value


If you and the older adult agree on next steps during your first conversation, it can be easy to start the next discussion. For example: "Have you thought about meeting with a financial advisor?" or "I printed a financial power of attorney form for you to look over." If the first conversation didn't end with clear plans or on a positive note, there are other ways to start a follow-up discussion. You might want to:

  • Build on a specific point from the previous discussion: "You mentioned that you don't remember some of the charges on your credit card bill. Could we look at it together?"
  • Discuss a different financial topic: "I know you don't want to discuss financial details. Can we talk about what legal documents you have?"
  • Try to understand the older adult's point of view: "You said that you don't want to rely on paid help. Are you concerned about the cost or do you want people who you know to help out?"
  • Explain why this is important to you: "It may seem like I'm overreacting, but a medical emergency could happen anytime. I want to make sure we know who should make decisions and how to honor your preferences, if that happens."
  • Highlight how finances might affect other things: "I know you want to stay in your apartment. A financial planner could help you figure out how to afford that."
  • Space out conversations: "It's been a few weeks since we talked about maybe having a group financial discussion. Do you still think that's a good idea?"


Encourage the older adult to share thoughts and opinions by asking more open-ended questions, like "Are any financial tasks difficult or unpleasant for you?" If you ask lots of "leading" questions - like "Wouldn't you feel better if I took over paying bills?" - it can seem like you're just trying to get the older adult to go along with what you want.


Try to have smaller, more frequent conversations, rather than a few big ones. That gives you both time to consider options before you discuss financial issues again.


Avoid launching into a conversation about finances every time you talk with the older adult. Try to balance the "serious" talk with time spent simply enjoying each other's company.

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