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If Retired Parents Need Financial Help, How Should Children Respond?

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A recent two-part series of articles in USA Today provided a very honest treatment of a very difficult question: if aging parents need financial help, how should their adult children respond? The answer can affect the relationship between parents and children for the rest of Mom and Dad’s life – not to mention the impact it could have on your own long-term financial health.

You can click here to read Part 1 of this important and insightful article. Written by financial expert Peter Dunn, it sets the stage in dire terms. “The retirement crisis in America isn’t just on paper,” writes Dunn. “Our country is filled with Americans who worked their whole lives, raised families and now can’t support themselves.” Because so many adults are nearing retirement with little or no savings set aside, it’s a virtual certainty that many of these retirees will struggle and fail at remaining independent in their senior years. The question is what do they do then?

This dilemma puts adult children in an extremely difficult situation. “Are you going to jump in and help?” asks Dunn. “Because if you don’t, there is no other safety net.” Yet the answer – whether to provide assistance, and how to help – can be complicated.

As the USA Today piece points out, when young people first launch out on their own, they have complete freedom to try and fail at various jobs and lifestyles because time is on their side. The possibilities for course changes when we’re younger appear endless. Not so with retirees. For them, writes Dunn, “The potential number of permanent solutions [to financial shortage] is slim to none. With the cost of health care, inflation and the absence of a paycheck, aging without money,” he writes starkly, “is hell.”

Dunn’s advice is clear: if you sense that your parents’ financial condition is precarious and they might run out of money in retirement, the sooner you get involved, the better. Your first goal needs to be helping your parents face the situation honestly and reduce their monthly expenses. Until they’ve pared back their lifestyle, you should resist the temptation to jump in hastily and supplement their income. “Due to the fixed nature of retirement income,” Peter Dunn warns, “if you start supplementing their income [prematurely], you’re on the hook in perpetuity.”

Helping your parents reduce their expenses may sound callous, but things will be far worse if you wait until a full-blown financial crisis sets in. It’s not fair to you and your family for you to scrimp and save, cutting back on your own lifestyle just so you can keep on funding the excesses of your parents, as much as you love them. If the mismanagement of money is the root of the problem, then the solution may be hard but it will be necessary.

The second part of the USA Today article is written from the perspective of the retiree. If you sense that your own retirement income is (or will be) insufficient, at what point should you approach your own children for help? Peter Dunn has an answer that may be tough to hear. “You owe it to everyone involved to make sure you’ve truly eliminated superfluous spending,” he writes. “That’s easier said than done. Your decades of loose spending may have gotten you into this quandary.” The bottom line, says Dunn, is that “Your financial life has never required more brutal honesty.”

The article concludes with three questions: Could your family assist you, would they assist you, and should they assist you? If your family lacks the means to help, then that’s the end of the conversation (and the USA Today article has a few suggestions about finding non-family aid). But if your family could support you, you’re more likely to gain their cooperation if you (a) first pare back your own spending and (b) then present them with a carefully thought-out plan, not an open-ended request. As to the final question – should your adult children help you – the answer may seem obvious. But that’s where family dynamics, family values and family history come into the equation. The circumstances of every family are unique, to say the least.

If you’re in that awkward situation – either as a parent or as a child – let us here at AgingOptions offer you our assistance as advisors and mediators. Having a transparent financial conversation within a family can be extremely difficult, but ultimately – as we’ve witnessed repeatedly – it is therapeutic. We have helped many families broach these challenging and emotionally charged subjects with honesty, and guided them to mutually beneficial long-term solutions. We would be honored to provide the same services to you.

In the same way, let us be your guide to all facets of retirement planning. With our unique and comprehensive approach that we call LifePlanning, we can help you answer all the vital questions solid retirement planning requires. Are your assets both adequate and well protected? Have you considered your housing options? Do you have all your legal affairs in order? Is your family aware of, and supportive of, your wishes? Have you considered the best way to insure your medical needs? Your LifePlan answers all these questions and more.

Find out more about LifePlanning by attending a free LifePlanning Seminar – an information-packed session offered with no obligation. For details and online registration, click on the Upcoming Events tab, or call our office and we’ll gladly assist you.

(Originally reported at

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