Having “The Talk” With Your Parents About Retirement, Part One

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Each year, concerns mount about the ability for Americans to retire safely.  Only 14% of Americans feel comfortable that they can retire. In terms of money for retirement, 42% fear they might outlive their savings.  The sad fact is that 57% of pre-retirees haven’t even created a concrete retirement plan.

When you add in the concerns about the rising costs of healthcare, the reality is that 63% of baby boomers lack the confidence that they will have enough money for medical expenses once they retire.  It becomes an even more serious concern when you realize that 70% of people over age 65 will require some form of long term care.

Clearly, these are concerns for those entering retirement, but they should also be the concerns of those considering retirement at some point in the future.  Adult children who are interested in helping their retiring, or retired parents to live happily and safely in their retirements also need to be aware of these issues.

However, given the inevitability of our aging process and the concerns that people have about thriving and living safely in retirement, a recent American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) survey found that two-thirds of adult children have never talked about these matters with their parents.

So how can it be that these vital aging and end-of-life conversations are never undertaken, or done too late at best?

Is it because they’re just plain awkward for most people?

Is it because we never know when the time is right to have them?

Is it because we’re afraid of what our parents will think our motives are for having this discussion?

It’s hard enough to imagine our parents as senior citizens. The leap from authoritative provider to a frail and sometimes confused elderly person seems too great. Trust me, it’s hard for them to stomach this too and they’re fully aware of it.

So the thought of sitting down with your parents or older relative or friend, and discussing personal financial and health related information is right up there in attractiveness with being audited by the IRS.

As the children of retiring parents, it should be rewarding to watch our parents enter this new phase of their lives.  It’s a time to celebrate their labors and efforts.  It’s a time in which we can help our parents achieve what they’ve always dreamed of doing in much the same way they helped us to achieve our dreams.

It’s also a time to recognize that along with new found freedoms, retirement brings the need to consider many issues in order to ensure a long and safe retirement for our parents.  You hope your aging parents, relatives, and friends will always be healthy and mentally sharp. It’s easier to see them that way. But it’s not realistic and in the long run avoiding these matters is not what’s best for them.

As the adult child of a retiring or retired parent, you may hold the key to ensuring that your parents enjoy a safe retirement.  In order to achieve this, you will need to be an active participant in the discussion, planning and implementation phase of your parents’ retirement.

The best time to have ‘The Talk’ is well before you need it. Ideally, even before your parents have retired. This will allow for a richer and more intelligent conversation. As I wrote about extensively in my previous book, Safe 4 Retirement: The Four Keys to a Safe Retirement, retiring successfully entails far more than just having a set number of dollars in your savings account.

Those people happiest in their retirement years have not just financial health, but stay physically fit and eat right, look after their mental acumen and attitude, and have close relationships with friends and family.

As I mentioned earlier, you will eventually have ‘The Talk’ with your parents, but often it happens too late. At that point you’re operating in crisis mode, often with a parent with diminished mental capacities. You can also run into situations when more than one sibling is involved or even children from different marriages and unspoken expectations can exist. These are much better flushed out and dealt with head on. The goal should be: the earlier the better!

Remember also that people age differently. Your neighbor Joe may be gray haired and walk with a stoop at seventy, while your own father at the same age may be preparing for his first triathlon. Partly it’s genes, partly it’s how we have lived and are currently living our lives. But mostly it’s attitude!

So waltzing in to sit down for ‘The Talk’ with your father who’s on his way out to the gym, after finishing a twenty mile bike ride, and before he leaves for the symposium he’s giving later that evening, might not be the appropriate age specific time.

Use your judgment. But remember, crises can happen at any age. So it’s important to recognize that although this is a conversation that will be tough to have, it needs to be done.  The reality is also that your parents may be waiting for you to begin the discussion.  Having ‘The Talk’ will provide peace of mind to both you and them!

If you’re a retiree reading this who feels invincible and doesn’t have the impending need to discuss these matters, remember that life can be fragile.  I’m sure you can think of a friend or family member who has proven this to you.

To you I say, if your children haven’t initiated ‘The Talk’, reach out to them. You’ve always been a leader to them and this may need to be another matter that you have to take the lead on.

In January of 2013, I’ll be publishing my new book, “Having ‘The Talk’ With Your Parents About Retirement” and I’ll lay out the steps needed to have ‘The Talk’ with your parents.  It’s my goal that when you read through this book, you’ll recognize the peace and comfort that having ‘The Talk’ will bring to all family members, regardless of who initiated it.

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