There’s an old joke. An elderly man goes to the doctor because his leg hurts. The doctor says, “I’m sorry, I can’t do anything for you. It’s just old age”. To this the elderly man replies, “I think you’re wrong, will you please run some more tests?” The doctor asks the man what makes him so sure his diagnosis is inaccurate. The man says, “There’s nothing wrong with my other leg and it’s exactly the same age!”
Aging certainly comes with its own set of rewards and challenges. One of the challenges some people face as they get older is knowing when to ask for help. Something I have been assisting people with in my practice more and more lately is how to talk to their family about financial issues. Like the decision to quit driving, asking for help with your finances especially from your family can be difficult and emotional. It can feel like you are giving up your freedom and independence. To the contrary, with proper planning, you can better ensure your wishes are carried out throughout your entire life. It’s important to realize there is not something wrong with you; it’s not a shortcoming on your part. It’s just natural and you’re not alone. In fact, almost everyone that is fortunate enough to be blessed with a long life will face a time when help is needed with daily activities which may include driving, healthcare, bill paying, budgeting, etc.
It is my opinion based on years of experience; helping dozens of families through their retirement, the more pre-planning that can be done vs. emergency planning, the better. It is always a good idea to express your wishes to those you have appointed to take over your investments someday so that everyone knows their role and how best to carry it out.
If you are married, the first thing you need to do is get on the same page as a couple regarding a vision of your future, the help you may want to ask for down the road and from whom. You will also want to make sure you both know your budget, financial plan, how to pay the bills, and where your important documents are kept. This sounds obvious but like anything it is better to get this down before something happens and one of you is left scrambling for important contact information, copies of you powers of attorney and the checkbook. Once you have this all down pat as a couple, you can approach your family or other designees with the subject.
Many of my clients reach a time in their life when they no longer want to make their own financial decisions. But, well before that time comes, a good step in preparation for that time may be to bring a trusted family member into the mix as a “co-pilot”. While you are still comfortable with and happy to manage your money matters, you start to share the burden with someone else so they can get a flavor for how you like to run things and at the same time give you an extra set of eyes on things.
Another good idea is to establish some ground rules for how to approach things in the future. For example, you may want to ask your family to help you be aware of changes in your behavior that may indicate you need help. But, you will have to discuss how you want to be approached. They will need to agree to this and in turn you’ll have to promise to be open to their observations. A possible example may be, “mom/dad...remember when we discussed your finances and you asked me to keep an eye out for any changes in your behavior? Well, I noticed recently. Let’s talk about it”.
Two of the main keys to a successful outcome are communication and planning. Your financial advisor should be able to help you establish a good plan in conjunction with other professionals like, an estate planning attorney, insurance agent, and tax professional. They may also be able to help you broach the subject with your loved ones by helping to coordinate a family meeting.
(Editor’s Note: Chad Winn is a financial advisors for Wells Fargo Advisors. Contact Chad at email@example.com.)