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Editorial: Have you had 'the talk' with your parents?

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Money. Everybody wants more of it but nobody wants to talk openly about it -- especially with their aging parents.

But financial matters are a topic that needs to be broached. The clearer understanding adult children have of their parents' finances, the better. According to the Minnesota Society of Certified Public Accountants (MNCPA), this includes knowing if your parents have enough money to make it through their retirement to understanding their wishes if they should become incapacitated to protecting them from unscrupulous scammers who prey on the elderly.

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The MNCPA provided the following advice on how adult children can talk with their parents about money:

n Start the conversation. This can be the awkward part, but don't let that deter you. Find a way to broach the subject so it doesn't sound like you no longer trust your parents' judgment to make decisions. Let them know you want to understand their financial situation so you can help keep their affairs in order. You may find that your parents are relieved to have someone else help monitor this very important aspect of their lives.

n Timing is everything. Get this dialogue started with your parents sooner rather than later. Don't wait for a crisis when you might not have time to do the background work before making a crucial decision. Statistics tell us that as we age, we all lose mental clarity. Be proactive with your conversations so your parents can clearly define their wishes before their age starts affecting their decisions.

n Play an active role. You can learn a lot by sitting down with and talking to your parents directly and having them show you their bank statements, wills (make sure you have one, too), investment accounts, etc. Ask to go with them the next time they meet with their financial planner. The more you know, the more you can help.

n Get all the details. Do they have wills? Do they have living wills? Have they designated someone to have power of attorney? Where are important documents related to these decisions located? You'll also want to be sure to know their Social Security numbers, all information related to insurance policies, health records, Medicare numbers, assets and liabilities, bank records, tax returns, safety deposit box locations and how to access them, and names and contact information for any doctors, financial advisors, attorneys and insurance agents. Knowing this information will help you be prepared.

n Know what they want. Ask your parents specific details about how they want their finances to be handled in case they are incapacitated. Once you have a grasp on their financial position, your role is to help safeguard their assets and make sure their wishes are carried out.

n Be inclusive. Family finances can be one of the biggest sources of family strife. If you have siblings, include them from the outset. Having support and making mutual decisions regarding your parents can help in times of crisis. And include your parents in their financial decision making for as long as possible. Letting them maintain a sense of control over their own money is important to most people's independence. Over time, watch for signs that their decision making may be impaired. These might include things like mistakes in a checkbook, missing bill payments, or making poor decisions, financial or otherwise.

When you're visiting your parents, don't let money matters be the elephant in the room. Cut potential problems down to size by talking about financial plans in an open, honest and loving way.

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