If the prospect of asking your aging parents about the way they handle their household finances — or how they’d feel about moving to a nursing home — fills you with apprehension, you are not alone. However, it’s the kind of conversation you can’t afford to delay indefinitely. As your parents get older, it’s critical to sit down with them and talk about their health and financial well-being — before urgent decisions are forced on you.

“The consequence of not having these discussions is that you aren’t prepared to make sound medical and financial choices when mom or dad has an emergency,” says Deborah Eickhoff, vice president of Wells Fargo Advisors’ high-net-worth planning group.

Fortunately, there are ways to make this process easier. The most important is to plan ahead. Starting these discussions early and revisiting them regularly will help you and your family handle lifestyle-changing issues concerning your parents.

How to start the conversation

If only there was a uniformly effortless way to speak to mom and dad about their health and finances. No such protocol exists, but you might broach the topic around the time the older parent turns 70, Eickhoff recommends. “Once you’ve started the dialogue, you’ll have laid the groundwork to continue it in the future,” she says, “And 70 is still a relatively young age to begin having these talks.”

On the medical side, you might ask your parents what they’d like to happen if their health starts to fail. Do they want to stay in their home, or are they open to moving to an assisted living or long-term care facility? If acute care becomes necessary, is there a hospital they prefer? How much medical intervention do they want if their condition becomes dire? How would they like to handle end-of-life issues? The answers to these questions will play a critical role in helping you create a realistic and well-thought-out plan.

Conversations about finances can be just as challenging, especially for families not used to discussing money. At some point, parents may need help with day-to-day financial tasks such as paying bills and balancing the checkbook, or with larger issues like investing. It’s important to clearly understand your parents’ goals for their wealth, from being able to afford the retirement lifestyle they envision to supporting charities they care about.

Having these discussions as early as possible helps establish the rationale for estate planning decisions, Eickhoff notes. For example, if the parents have spent more on one child’s education or provided funds to help start a business, they might decide to compensate the other siblings later on with larger shares of the estate.

What to look for

Parents are not likely to volunteer that they need help, so it’s up to their children to watch for red flags — uncharacteristic difficulty performing daily chores or keeping track of household finances, for example. Discreetness and sensitivity are essential. One way to monitor your parents’ approach to the household finances is to suggest going through a routine chore together during one of your regular visits. “You might say, ‘Mom, I’ll be over next Saturday. Let’s just pay the bills together,’” Eickhoff suggests.

If you have siblings, open communication can foster cohesion and make handling the issues a lot easier, even if you live in different parts of the country. Since the burden of care can easily land on the shoulders of the child who lives closest to the parents, it’s important that the others pitch in.

• This article was written by Wells Fargo Advisors and provided courtesy of Ahwatukee Financial Advisor S. Kim DeVoss, CFP. Reach her at (480) 940-5519. Investments in securities and insurance products are: NOT FDIC-INSURED/NOT BANK-GUARANTEED/MAY LOSE VALUE. Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC, Member SIPC, is a registered broker-dealer and a separate non-bank affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company.

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