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How to have 'the (money) talk' with your parents

Key Points
  • From wills to life insurance, no one wants to discuss a financial plan with their aging parents.
  • The longer you wait, the trickier these conversations become, says personal finance expert Cameron Huddleston.
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Starting the money talk with your parents

"It's a taboo topic," said Cameron Huddleston, a personal finance journalist and author of "Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk. "

Huddleston was not referring to sex, as you might expect, but rather the other issue families avoid all too often – money.

From wills to life insurance, the longer you wait, the trickier these conversations become, Huddleston said. "No one wants to think about aging and death."

Although many experts say people should have their affairs in order before they turn 50, just about half have a will by that age, according to a recent report by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave. And more than half said their lack of proper planning could leave a mess for their families.

Only 18% of those 55 and older have the recommended essentials: a will, a health-care directive and a power of attorney, the study found.

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For starters, Huddleston advises families to get a general sense of your aging parents' financial standing, including where they bank and if there is enough savings to cover their retirement and long-term care.

"If they're struggling in retirement, they'll lean on you for support," she said.

Then, comprise an organized list of what legal documents they do have, such as a power of attorney, which says who can make financial decisions on their behalf, and a health-care directive, also known as a living will, which designates who can make health decisions for them.

Include information on bank accounts and other assets, as well as passwords to online accounts and Social Security numbers.

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From there, your parents can build an estate plan, if one doesn't exist already. Putting a plan in place for how financial accounts, real estate and possessions will be distributed helps loved ones during what is already a difficult time — and keeps the courts from deciding where these assets go.

At the same time, talk to your own children about your financial picture, Huddleston said. "So many people think they don't need to yet have the talk," she said. But in fact "the perfect time to have the conversation" is when you are healthy.

As an added incentive, young adults who discussed money with their parents are more likely to have their own finances under control, have a budget, more likely to have an emergency fund, more likely to put 10% or more of their income toward savings and more likely to have a retirement account, according to a separate parents, kids & money survey from T. Rowe Price.

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