Retirement Benefits

How to Discuss Finances with Aging Parents

Adult woman and senior mother talking on front porch

While discussing finances with aging parents can be difficult, it’s a critical conversation better had sooner than later. Taking the time now to plan for the unknown is a gift for your family.

We’ve gathered information on how to get started and what topics to cover, along with additional resources in case they are a CalPERS retiree.

Are They a CalPERS Retiree?

Sign Up for Direct Deposit

If they haven’t already, parents can sign up for direct deposit online or by mail at any time. In addition to ease of use, they won’t have to worry about lost, stolen, or delayed checks. Learn more about how your parents can sign up or change financial institutions.

Understand Medicare

If your parents are in the CalPERS Health Program, they may have access to supplemental benefits available through their plan such as meal delivery following a hospital stay or personal emergency response devices, as well as free or low-cost health and wellness programs. Find resources on our website, including our Medicare Enrollment Guide (PDF).

Authorize a Special Power of Attorney

Even if your parents already have a power of attorney set up through another resource, it may not address their CalPERS retirement benefits. Other power of attorney documents must specifically grant the attorney-in-fact authority to conduct business with us. Our CalPERS special power of attorney form (PDF) allows them to designate a representative to conduct their retirement business if they’re unable to do so.

What Else to Know?

Introduce the Topic Slowly

Strong emotions can be involved when the roles between a parent and child shift. Some older adults might be reluctant to share their personal information, even with family members. It can be helpful to have the first chat on a walk or in a quiet corner of a coffee shop. Pick only a few topics to discuss at first. Let them know you support their independence and want to plan a future that meets their wishes.

Gather Important Documents

Have them show you where they keep their important documents, like birth certificates, Social Security cards, bank statements, and vehicle and property titles. If necessary, offer to store them with your documents so that everything is in one place.

Meet Their Advisors

If they use the services of a financial advisor or attorney, ask to meet with them together. Go over accounts and learn about their investments. When meeting their attorney, broach the topic of a will, living trust, and power of attorney. For difficult conversations like this, it might be easier having a knowledgeable and neutral third party present.

Beyond the Basics

Designate a Beneficiary

Access to their bank accounts makes it easier to pay their bills and review balances. A recent study from Johns Hopkins found that missed payments on routine bills could be early predictors of dementia, and you can also monitor your parent’s account for fraud.

Consult a financial advisor to evaluate the potential financial impacts to you before being added as a joint account holder on your parent’s bank account.

Having a beneficiary on file with financial institutions and at CalPERS can ensure your parent’s funds are disbursed according to their wishes. Our website explains how to designate a beneficiary and what life events can revoke a beneficiary.

Establish an Estate Plan

Your estate includes everything you own at the time of your death: real estate, pension accounts, bank accounts, stocks and securities, life insurance policies, and personal property like your car, jewelry, or artwork. Check that your parent has an estate plan including a will, living trust, durable power of attorney, and advanced health care directive.

Consider a Digital Estate Plan

Digital assets don’t have a physical presence and may be overlooked during estate planning. Get access to your parent’s passwords before it’s an emergency. Securing digital assets like social media accounts, email accounts, and subscription services can ensure they remain monitored and protected.

Share Keys and Codes

Decide how you have access to their keys and codes. Most everyone has keys to their parent’s house, but consider car keys or fobs, safe deposit box keys, storage unit keys and access codes, and security codes. If it isn’t possible for you to have these items with you, have your parents show you where they keep them.

Determine Future Living Arrangements

Does your parent want to age in place, live with family or friends, or move into an assisted living facility? This decision can be difficult, and there are many factors to consider including level of care, cost, community, and location. Multigenerational living is becoming more commonplace in the United States. There are benefits and drawbacks, so have several chats about this option before committing.

If your parent decides to age in place, ensure their house is safe, accessible, and suited to their needs. There are a variety of programs available that offer help with transportation, older adults’ rights, and other support services.

Plan for Pets

If your parents have pets, plan for their care if they should outlive your parents. Will a friend, family member, or neighbor adopt them? Is there money allocated in your parent’s trust to pay for the pet’s food and care? Note that most animal shelters accept pets on a case-by-case basis, there may be a lengthy waitlist, and you may be required to pay surrendering fees.

Additional Resources