What To Do When Your Parents’ Money Problems Become Yours

By Eve Kaplan

What should you do when your aging parents’ financial problems become your problems? This is one of the most ticklish and emotionally complex challenges I face as an advisor.

We Americans are notoriously private about financial matters; it’s common for adult children and parents to share very little in the way of financial information.

This kind of privacy can come back to bite us, however, when issues our aging parents face are shifted to our shoulders. Here are two examples, involving people I know, of how adult children tackled these issues:

Janice and her mother, Joy.
Janice’s mother, Joy, is in her early 80s. Janice’s father passed away several years ago. Both parents grew up in the Great Depression and led relatively frugal lives. Joy remains fiercely independent and still lives in the same suburban home her parents bought 50 years ago. Janice never inquired about her mother’s financial well-being, and her mother never would have shared any information, anyway, believing that money matters are “private.”

This situation worked well until her mother called her one day, out of the blue, and asked for a substantial loan, promising to repay it in a few months. This alarmed Janice.

After Janice dug more deeply into the situation, Joy reluctantly confessed she’d been approached by phone several months ago by a man she now considers to be “a friend.” She enjoyed speaking with him daily. After gaining Joy’s confidence, this friend began to ask for money to help him out of a “tight financial situation.” Over several months, Joy mailed him a total of $18,000 in checks.

Joy felt like a complete fool when Janice pried the information out of her and told her a scam artist had been victimizing her. Janice wasn’t able to determine the extent of Joy’s problem since Joy alluded to certificates of deposit and other assets but wouldn’t share the information with her daughter.

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