100: How To Talk To Your Aging Parents About Money with Cameron Huddleston
We all know we need to talk to our parents about money. We all know that we need to get their affairs in order in case something happens, especially as they get older. However, life has a tendency to get in the way, we table these conversations for later, and we sweep them under the rug. This is a problem for many reasons, but no fact drives this home faster than a Fidelity study in which 69% of parents said they expected one of their children to manage their money, yet over a third of the children surveyed had no idea they were expected to fill that role.
Cameron Huddleston is on a mission to help facilitate these tough conversations. He’s the author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How To Have Essential Conversations with Your Parents About Their Finances. It’s an excellent, step-by-step guide to help you stop stalling and make plans with advice from Cameron’s own experiences as a daughter and financial expert, as well as other financial, legal, and elder care experts.
Today, Cameron joins the podcast to discuss the challenges she faced with her own aging parents that led her to write the book. We talk about why these conversations are so taboo (and what to do if your family pushes back on having them). She also gives a number of resources you can share with your parents to help you get a grasp on what their finances really look like, how to keep them protected from scammers in old age, and how to take action if your parents have already become impaired.
Please note: For the special giveaway of Job Optional*, we do not currently offer international shipping. Residents outside of the U.S. may obtain a copy of Job Optional* via eBook format upon request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:
- The shocking statistics that show how few families have actually discussed financial planning – and the many ways that this can become a serious problem later in life, especially in the event of sudden death or illness.
- Cameron’s advice for helping people start these conversations and get past the initial awkwardness and discomfort that all but inevitably comes with them.
- Why sooner is always better when it comes to having tough conversations about finance – and why it’s almost always too late to have this conversation by your parents’ end of life years.
- How Cameron is already teaching her young children to have serious conversations about money – and why she’s proud that money is absolutely not a taboo topic in her household.
- “You need to realize if you are planning on stepping in and being a caregiver for a parent, it’s a full-time job. So, if you are currently working and your family counts on your income, there’s a good chance you might have to say goodbye to that income.” – Cameron Huddleston
- “You should be teaching your kids about money from the time they are two so that money is not a taboo topic in your family.” – Cameron Huddleston
Casey Weade: Cameron, welcome to the podcast.
Cameron Huddleston: Hi. Thanks for having me on.
Casey Weade: I am so excited to have you here with us. These are discussions that I have been having with families I worked with for years and it's also something that's impacted me personally. I've read dozens of finance books over the last year. I read probably a dozen or so every year and, honestly, there's rarely something that I get out of these books. Every once in awhile, one will come along where that's really important or I need to remember that or I like the way they said that. And, in yours, I found something I actually had overlooked and, with my parents, I'm their financial advisor so it's pretty easy to have this money discussion with my parents. We have been having it for years. It's always been pretty well-solidified with dad. Dad is also a financial advisor. He was for 40 years and we're also in business together. So, I always made sure we had our power of attorney of legal documents set up to make sure if something happened to him, we could continue business as usual.
However, I just realized I didn't have a power of attorney for mom yet. And since they divorced, I need to go back and revisit her estate plan and get some things in order. And so, right now on my to-do list that I'm looking at this morning, as soon as we get off this interview is to make sure we've got power of attorney for mom. So, thank you for helping me be on the right track.
Cameron Huddleston: Good. I'm glad I can help you and give you a good reminder to talk to your mom.
Casey Weade: I think some of these are just reminders. I think a lot of us we know we need to talk to mom about money, we need to talk to dad about money, we need to make sure that they've got their affairs in order in case something happens but then life happens and we kind of brush some of these things under the rug, we forget about them. And I just want to share some statistics with everyone right now because I pulled these out of your book and I thought these were just a few really interesting statistics that really share with the audience why this is such an important and timely topic, I believe. You cited a 2016 Care.com survey that found that more than half of parents would rather have sex talks with their kids than talk to their parents about money and aging issues. Then GoBankingRates.com, 73% of adults haven't had detailed conversations with their parents about their finances. And then Fidelity, this is one that I found most concerning, Fidelity study cited that 69% of parents expect one of their children to manage their finances in retirement but more than a third of children expected to fill this role don't even know that they're supposed to fill that role.
Cameron Huddleston: I know. I think all of those statistics are a little bit shocking because you mentioned a lot in my book is a reminder but for many people, the thought hasn't even crossed their mind that they need to be talking to their parents about their finances. That Go Banking Rates study that you mentioned, it also found that a large percentage of the people who have not had conversations with their parents about their finances, one of the key reasons is because they don't realize this is a conversation they need to have. The other issue is that they do realize they need to be having the conversation. They're afraid to or they think it's none of their business. And I hate to break the news to you, but there is a very good chance your parent’s finances will become your business as they age. You're likely going to have to get involved for one reason or the other, maybe because they're going to need caregiving support or just simply as they age, our financial decision-making ability declines and they might become victims of scams. You might have to step in and help out.
If you have one parent who dies and the parent who's left behind wasn't involved in the family finances, that parent might need your help. They might not be prepared for retirement and they need financial support from you. Or when your parents die and everyone does die, you have to deal with what they left behind. And if they haven't planned well, if they don't have important legal documents such as a will or a trust, it's going to make things so much more difficult for you and your siblings. And so, these conversations are important. They are so important and they're so important to have sooner rather than later.
Casey Weade: Yeah. I find that I believe they're important. Other people believe they're important. However, we all have our own unique reason for thinking or believing that it is such an important conversation. I think it's a really important conversation. However, you've made it your passion and your mission to make sure that people are having this discussion. If it's a passion and a mission then it must have come out of some personal experiences that you've had yourself.
Cameron Huddleston: Yes. I have two reasons I wrote this book. One, my father died at the age of 61. He was an attorney. He was in a second marriage and he died without a will. And so, even if you think your parents are on top of their finances, are on top of their estate planning, they might not be. I learned that with my father. The bigger reason though is because of my mother. My mother was diagnosed at the age of 65 with Alzheimer's, which is a relatively young age to get that diagnosis. I was 35 at the time. I had two young kids. I now have three and I had not detailed conversations with my mother about her finances. Several years before she got the diagnosis and she wasn't having any memory problems at the time, I had mentioned to her that she should look into getting long-term care insurance, which will help pay for long-term care if you ever need it. She took my advice, met with an insurance agent, and unfortunately, she could not get coverage because she had a health issue, another preexisting health issue that made her too high risk.
And looking back, I can now say, well, I should have used that opportunity to sit down with her and to say, “Mom, let's look at your finances. Let's figure out if you ever need long-term care, how you would pay for it. Let's talk about the type of care you would want.” But I didn't and I have been a financial journalist for more than 17 years and it just didn't dawn on me how important it was to have that conversation. So, then a few years later when she started having memory problems, I had to scramble. I panicked. At that point, it was no longer a what-if conversation. What if this happens? What would we need to do? It was this is a problem that we're facing now and we've got to figure out how to deal with it. And the bigger issue for me at that point was I didn't want to have to be the one to tell my mother I could see that she was having trouble remembering things. I wasn't afraid to talk to her about her finances but if I was having that conversation, there had to be a reason. And I didn't want to had to point out to her, "Mom, let's talk about these things because you're having memory problems,” just because that was the harder part for me, that dealing with the emotional side of letting my mother know that I could see that she was having memory problems.
So, I dragged my feet for a while, honestly, until I got to the point where I was like I have to take action. We've got to get in and meet with an attorney, update those legal documents, which we can talk about later in the show. But I know a lot of people think that these conversations with their parents can wait until there is a medical emergency, until something comes up that makes the conversation necessary. But I want people to realize that at that point, it can be too late. You have fewer options when it comes to planning. Your parents might not have the legal documents they need that would allow you to step in and start helping them with their finances. And as I mentioned with my mom, emotions are running high at that point so you're not thinking as clearly. If you have the conversations well before there's any need to have them, you're having them with a clear frame of mind. There's no rush, there's no urgency, there's not an emergency you're dealing with. And so, it removes that emotional side from the conversations, which makes them a lot easier to have.
And so, I wrote this book because I want people to have these conversations before they had to, and I want people to realize how important they are. I want them to realize they can't wait. I want them also to realize they're not as scary as they seem to be.
Casey Weade: Yeah. And I think you're so right getting ahead of the game. When I see things come up, I mean, in the family even right when there is struggle within the siblings and the parents, it's because things have to get done right now. There's urgency, emotions are high, and then mistakes are made, or the family's just torn apart sometimes. I want to make sure people get ahead of that as well and there's so much to impact, I think, in what you just said here but you talked about long-term care so much. I want to just sit on that subject for a little bit and get some of your insights there. Because in your book, you talk extensively about long-term care and quite often when we're having this conversation with families, it has to do with long-term care. They want to make sure mom and dad are taken care of the best way they possibly can and it doesn't put a burden on their family. And maybe they have a family with young children at the time as well and they're trying to take care of mom and dad and it's just a real struggle.
So, I want to get some of your insights on long-term care. You started to have this discussion with your mom and at the time she was single, and your dad they've been divorced at that point. And I wonder, would you have approached this conversation differently? Or would you have made it as important if your parents were still married? Or did you approach this differently because it was just mom and she was single?
Cameron Huddleston: I think if my parents were still married, I still would have suggested to both of them that they get long-term care coverage. With my mother, I was particularly concerned because her father who lived into his 80s, he had dementia later in life. And so, of course, in the back of my mind, I'm thinking, "Well, this could potentially be an issue,” especially though because she was alone and I was writing for Kiplinger's Personal Finance at the time so I had written articles about long-term care. I would have brought it up to both of them when they were still together. With my mom, I saw it as something that was more necessary because my father was remarried. There was a potential caregiver for him. My mother was alone. And just for people who don't know really what long-term care really means or what long-term care insurance is, long-term care is care that you can receive either in your home, an assisted living facility, a nursing home, and it involves the daily activities of life. Like if you can no longer dress yourself, bathe yourself, feed yourself, all of those things that we take for granted on a daily basis, if you can't do that because of physical limitations or mental limitations, you need long-term care and it's incredibly expensive.
The average cost of care in home from a home health aide or an assisted living facility, that's about $4,500 a month. A month. Nursing home care, skilled nursing home care is going to be twice as much and Medicare does not pay for long-term care. Medicaid will but you have to have very few assets, very low income to qualify. Long-term care insurance is the one type of insurance that will pay for long-term care either in your home, the assisted living facility, the nursing home. There are some other options to pay for that care, a life insurance policy with a long-term care benefit, annuities or even special long-term care annuities. Of course, if worse comes to worst and you already own your home and the mortgage is paid off, you can get a reverse mortgage, but it's expensive. Most adults do not have long-term care insurance. They don't have the life insurance, the long-term care benefit. Most people their long-term care plan is a family member, a child, a spouse, a partner.
Casey Weade: Quite often unknowingly, I mean, most of them don't know that they're the long-term care policy.
Cameron Huddleston: Exactly.
Casey Weade: But I'll hear that from clients. They'll say, “Well, my kids are going to take care of me someday,” and well, do the kids know that? And then when you talk to the kids themselves, sometimes I will hear, “I'm going to take care of mom and dad. I want to take care of them.” And so, they’ll say, "Why do I need long-term care insurance because I'm going to take care of them?”
Cameron Huddleston: And I think that's wonderful. I took care of my mother for a few years. At first, she was getting care in her house and then she lived with me for a while and then I moved her into an assisted living facility and memory care facility where she could get round-the-clock care. I think it's wonderful if you want to help out a parent. I mean, they took care of you, they raised you, but you need to realize if you are planning on stepping in and being a caregiver for a parent, it is a full-time job. So, if you are currently working and your family counts on your income, there's a good chance you might have to say goodbye to that income. Because even when my mother was living with me, I still had hired someone to basically take care of her during the day. I would get up in the morning, I would fix her breakfast, I would make sure she took her medication, I would check in on her. Every night she would either eat dinner with me and my family or she would eat dinner on her own. We actually had a separate apartment in our house where she was.
So, I had, fortunately, there were other resources there to pay for someone because if I had not been able to pay for someone to care for her, I would not have been able to work. And with young children at the time, I'm not sure how I would have been able to do it. Even if I wasn't working, there were still kids to take care of. It's exhausting. It is stressful. And honestly, the hardest part is when you are caring for a parent, you are put into the position of basically parenting your parent, which it's a very uncomfortable position to be in. And as your parent’s condition declines, you have to do everything. That bathing, that dressing that I mentioned, that will fall on you. And as awkward as this might sound, consider how awkward it will be to be put in that position. If you are a woman and you're caring for your father, if you're a man and you’re caring for your mother, think about that for a second. Do you want to be providing that sort of care? Would you be comfortable providing that sort of care?
I mean, my mother and I, we are the same sex and it is still uncomfortable for me when I am in a situation where and she's in long-term care in a facility but when I have to step in and help out, she's been in the hospital and I've been there in the hospital with her. It's so much easier to have that trained professional who is helping her than when I had to come in and she responds better to them than she does to me. She no longer remembers who I am but she's got people who know what they're doing. I'm not a trained caregiver and so you say you want to do it, and it's wonderful but there might come a point when you can no longer provide the care that your parent needs. And if you don't have a plan for paying for that professional care, you're going to find yourself in a lot of trouble, a lot of financial trouble.
Casey Weade: Well, I often tell people who are working with a lot of their situations, I mean, long-term care is for the kids. It's not for you. It's for the kids. In one or two ways, for dad, my dad, he's one that called me and he had this beautiful home in North Carolina and he wakes up every morning, takes pictures of sunsets, sends me a picture, and he would call usually. We talk about every day and he would call me and say, “Hey, son, someday this home is going to be yours.” And I said, “Well, not if I have to sell it to pay for the long-term care.” And he said, “Well, that won't happen because I'm going to use a gun.” And we hear that all the time from people and I said, well, then he realizes if he gets to that point, he probably won't be able to find the gun.
Cameron Huddleston: Exactly.
Casey Weade: That is not a plan. And I've had someone else tell me that too, someone who a financial planner actually who met a client and that was a plan and it doesn't work. Like no one wants to envision themselves in a position where someone else is caring for them and they don't know who that person is because they no longer have their memory, Alzheimer's, dementia, whatever it is or maybe it's even you've had a stroke or something. No one wants to think about that. No one does. But that plan to just kind of avoid this situation altogether, it's not necessarily going to work.
Casey Weade: Well, and dad's in a situation where he could cover his own care. I mean, he probably lives in the Taj Mahal of long-term care facilities for several years and just have a great time. However, I mean, it didn't impact him. It ultimately impacted my inheritance and I don't care, right? But, yes, I'm the one that gets hurt. It doesn't affect him. It hurts whoever the beneficiary is if you have enough assets or if you're planning on self-insuring, that's just the case. Otherwise, it could be the situation that you speak of. Well, now I've got a lot of responsibilities and expenses on me as a child to take care of mom and dad. So, yeah, it is for the kids for a large part, especially if you're a single parent, I think. And I want to get into that here in just a moment. But before we wrap this up, I want to ask when you started talking to mom about this, you're pretty well equipped, right? You've been writing about finance for about 20 years so you're pretty well equipped to have this conversation and handle any objections that may come up. And even when I'm having this conversation with clients, there's a lot of objections that come up during that.
That is probably one of the most taboo subjects, I think, in the financial planning world that people don't want to talk about long-term care. It's bad stuff. And so, did you have any objections? How did you handle those things? Any advice for someone that's trying to have this conversation but getting a lot of pushback?
Cameron Huddleston: So, when I mentioned the long-term care insurance to my mother before she had any memory issues, she was on board 100%. She met with the insurance agent. She was happy to go out. Unfortunately, she didn't qualify for long-term care and it is something that when it comes to the insurance, you need to be in good health to get it. You cannot wait until there's already a problem. Ideally, you want to get a policy when you're in your 50s because your health is going to be better, you’re younger, your rates are going to be better. If you wait until you're in your 60s, you're pushing it. By the time you're in your 70s, you're probably not going to be able to get a long-term care insurance policy. And I feel like that conversation is a little bit easier than the actual conversation about care. Because you're talking about a way to pay for this care if you need it. It's not quite so sensitive talking about the long-term care that this isn’t a part, it’s the cost of it because long-term care insurance is not cheap.
Casey Weade: I think it's the statistics, right? I mean, you have all those statistics in your head that you're able to share. Those are quite often the ones that get people moving, but more than that, I think it's stories. You talk a lot about stories and you’re writing as being one of the ways to initiate that conversation about parents’ finances, retirement planning, long-term care. And that's probably my favorite way to start the conversation or to get over some of the barriers that might be there.
Cameron Huddleston: Stories are great and I think that if you are already in your 40s, there's a good chance you have a story you can share with your parents. You want to call like maybe you want to take time off from work to care for a parent, maybe you have a friend whose parents passed away without a will or, hey, I listened to this podcast and there was a woman being interviewed whose mother has Alzheimer's disease and she wasn't able to get long-term care insurance and the daughter had to step in and care for the mom for a while and it's very expensive and it was very difficult for her. We're giving people a story right here that they can use with their parents and going to your parents with that story, illustrating whatever the point is that you want to make, whether it's the need for long-term care, whether it's the need for estate planning, whether it's the need for better retirement planning, there's likely a story that you can use, someone you know, something you heard on the radio, something you heard on the TV, on a podcast, something you read in an article.
If you're not comfortable actually starting it, send your parents an email. Here's an article I just read about someone who had to take care of a parent who had dementia or who had a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair. “Mom and dad, I really want you to read this article and then I love to have a conversation after you read the article to talk about ways we can plan to avoid this.” And I know there are a lot of parents who are going to say, “Okay. I understand. You sent me this article, but that's never going to happen to me.” And you mentioned that I know a lot of these statistics. I shared them in my book so that people can use them themselves in conversations. Your parents say, “Well, I'm never going to need long-term care,” and you say, "Well, let's hope not, mom and dad, but two-thirds of adults over the age of 65 will need long-term care at some point and the average length of long-term care is three years. And the average cost of long-term care and an assisted living facility is about $4,000 a month. Do you have $4,000 a month you could spare for three years to pay for?”
Casey Weade: This probably really shows why you said it's so important for middle and lower-income families to have this discussion. And I think that goes against the grain of what a lot of individuals think they say, “Well, I'm talking to mom and dad. They'll think I'm after the money,” or, well, I would only need to have that conversation if I was talking about, "Well, I've got really wealthy parents. I need to know how the business is running on all the business entities. I need to know where the trust documents are and how the trust is supposed to be administered for the next three generations.” It's not about that. It's about something much more important than that. Is that part of the reason? Or how would you explain the reasoning behind why this is so much more important for middle and lower-income families? Also, you mentioned single-parent families.
Cameron Huddleston: You're right. I mean, these conversations are not about what you're going to get at all. In fact, you want to be very careful when you talk to your parents about their finances, that you're not appearing greedy, that it's not about, “Mom, let's talk about your will,” or, “Dad, let's talk about your trust because I need to know where I stand. I need to know what I stand to inherit.”
Casey Weade: I need to know if I need to work anymore.
Cameron Huddleston: Right. And the thing is a lot of parents are reluctant to have those conversations because they don't want to talk about what their kids are getting at all. But getting away from like the trust and the wills and that sort of thing, these conversations are about your parents’ wishes, finding out what they are, talking to them about how you can be involved to make sure that they age comfortably, and with dignity and letting them know that you are looking out for their best interest. “Mom and dad, I want to know what your wishes are. I want to know if you ever need care, what sort of care you want. I want to know do you have a way to pay for care if you need it. I want to know if something happens and you're in a car accident and you end up in the hospital, how are your bills going to get paid? Are they paid automatically? Are you writing a check? If you're writing a check, I'd love to show you how to set up online banking. That's one lesson you're going to have to worry about, mom and dad. Your bills are going to get paid if something happens. It's going to make things easier. It's going to make things easier for you now. That's one less financial task you have to tackle every month, paying those bills.”
And so, finding a way to offer assistance, not judging and not saying, "You're doing this wrong. Let me step in and do it for you,” but, "Let me help you out. This has worked for me. Let's talk about this so we can have a plan. Let's talk about this so I know what your wishes are.” You want to be very clear that this is all about helping them and returning that favor. They took care of you. You want to be able to take care of them if they need it. And most parents when you approach it this way from a very loving, caring way, they might initially balk at the conversation, but they're going to see that you're looking out for them and they will come around most. Now, of course, there are going to be some who don't want to at all.
Casey Weade: So, we know why we need to have this conversation and with who for that matter, but when is the right time to have this conversation? It seems like the individuals that I find having this conversation we’ll start working with someone when they're 60 or 65. And they typically won't start bringing in their children or involving them in the conversation or even giving them POA so we can talk to them until later in life. We're talking mid-80s, late 80s, 90s. When do you think is the appropriate time to have the conversation?
Cameron Huddleston: That's too late. That's honestly too late. And I know I am an extreme case with a father who passed away at 61, a mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's at 65 but I am not the only person who has been in a situation like that. My husband has a colleague whose father just passed away at 64. And even though he was a finance professor, I mean, he did not have his finances together at all and the son is now having to figure everything out. The sooner you can have these conversations together, you want to have them while your parents are still relatively young and healthy. And the reason that is so important is because those documents you mentioned, the power of attorney, the living will that spells out what sort of end of life medical care you do or do not want unless you name someone to make healthcare decisions for you. Those legal documents have to be signed while you are still mentally competent. I mean, we came in under the wire with my mother.
Casey Weade: Yeah. that was a close call.
Cameron Huddleston: It was a very close call and I got really lucky. She was starting to have some memory issues and I was thinking we have to get in and meet with an attorney right away. I had a feeling she had not updated her legal documents since she and my father had gotten divorced. So, we met with an attorney, updated her will, had a new power of attorney document drawn up that named me and my sister, her power of attorney to make financial decisions for her when she was no longer able to update her living will. She was still competent enough to sign those documents. And thank goodness, because if she had not been and as her dementia progressed and if I needed to get access to her financial accounts, I couldn't have just gone to the bank and said, “My mother has Alzheimer's. I need to make sure I can sign her checks to pay her bills.” They would have said, "Well, are you her power of attorney?” If I had said no, they said they would have said, “Well, sorry. We can't give you access,” and then I would have had to go through the court system and spend months and months and thousands of dollars getting a conservatorship. There was a man I interviewed for my book and he had to do that. He spent nine months and $10,000.
Casey Weade: That was a scary story.
Cameron Huddleston: Going through the court process and he also had to spend his own money paying for his father's medical bills until he got access to his dad's bank account. I don't know how many people actually have $10,000 sitting around that they can use to go through court proceedings to become their parents’ conservator or guardian to make healthcare decisions, and can you pay your parents’ medical bills? Can you pay $8,000 a month for a nursing home until you get access to your parents’ account? Most people don't have that sort of cash sitting around and your parents might say, “Well, these legal documents they’re going to cost me money, right?” Well, yes, they will. If you meet with an attorney and you have the power of attorney, the will or the trust, the living will, it could cost you $1,000 or more depending on how complicated your situation is but $1,000 is a fraction of $10,000. That's a small price to pay to have these documents in place and to have a plan in place so that if something happens to you, the kids and other family members, someone you trust can step in and make those decisions.
And your parent’s like, “I don't want to give up this control. I don't want to name you power of attorney because then you're going to be able to go in and have access to my bank account,” and you just say, "Listen, mom and dad, wouldn't you rather decide who your power of attorney is going to be than have a judge decide that for you? It might not be the person you want. Get the documents, put it someplace safe, and tell me where I can find it when an emergency arises. You don't have to give it to me now because, honestly, if you don't actually have the document, that power of attorney document, it doesn't do you any good.
Casey Weade: You had to be able to find this stuff.
Cameron Huddleston: Right. But what I'm saying too is if your parents are skeptical, they're worried that you're going to abuse that power, well, certainly if they're worried that you're going to abuse the power, they shouldn't be naming you their power of attorney but if they're worried about giving up that control while they’re mentally competent, tell them put it someplace safe, agree on the situations, the times when you can access it and have them tell you how to access it. “And so, you're not giving me this control now. You've just put something in place so that when something happens that I can step in.”
Casey Weade: Yeah. The document can be drafted as such that it doesn't spring into play. It doesn't become effective until they're incapacitated. So, there are options for you around some of those concerns, I think, but also, as you said, I mean, we need regular reviews. You’ve talked a lot about continuing to have this conversation with your parents and I think that's of utmost importance. That enables you to assess their well-being, assess their mental well-being, their ability to continue to take care of their financial lives. And I also think some things change over time. After my parents divorced and we didn't continue this conversation and how do you think that we should continue that conversation? I think one of the biggest hurdles here is just time because it does take time in order to have those regular reviews, have these conversations. That's probably, to you, that is the usual objection when it comes to something like this. So, if we're going to do some kind of review schedule, I just like the idea of review schedule, what do you think that should look like?
Cameron Huddleston: I think certainly anytime there's a major life event like a divorce, that's an ideal time to have a conversation. In fact, the conversations have to happen then because you want to make sure that your parents update these with those legal documents to reflect their new status. So, when something like that happens, a death in the family, like that's a great time to have the conversation. You don't need to ask your parents to necessarily check in with you every month and give you an update. What you could do is certainly ask them to make a list of all of their accounts, all of their assets. I actually have this free resource that people can use. It's on my website. It's downloadable in case of an emergency organizer. And if you can print it out or you can just keep it in the PDF format so you can go back in and change it. Ask them to have…
Casey Weade: Let me interject on that because I think that addresses one of our fan questions. I just want to make sure because I was going to let him know that that is the resource but you can let him know right now. Marty Blessings asked if you're named the executor of your parents’ estate and or just an ordinary Joe, where can you go advice on what to expect and perhaps some checklists on all the items to consider and do? I was just going to tell them to read your book and go to your website but are there certain documents you think that would be really helpful for somebody like Marty?
Cameron Huddleston: Okay. So, if you're the executor, you need to know everything about your parents’ finances, everything, because you're going to be the one who's in charge when your parents die of sorting through those assets and participating with the courts, during the probate process of distributing those assets. So, I do have a free resource on my website. It's this downloadable file that you can give to your parents and, I mean, it includes everything. Everything from their social security number and their Medicare number to their bank accounts, their retirement accounts, the passwords, what type of insurance policies they have. Do they have real estate investments? What are their sources of income? What are their final wishes? Do they want to be buried or cremated?
Casey Weade: When I read the document, I mean, there's no credit card, safe combinations, auto titles, receipts, employment history, like do we really need to know all this stuff?
Cameron Huddleston: Yes, you do because the more you know, the easier it's going to be to sort through that stuff. I managed my mother's finances entirely now. And I will tell you why it's so important to know this because I have not had detailed conversations with her about her finances because we didn't sit down and look at all her accounts and I was having to figure this out as she was losing her memory. I mean, I was trying to fit together all the pieces of this puzzle not knowing what the final picture was supposed to look like. She had an account that I didn't know existed. And as I mentioned, she lived with me for a while so her mail was coming to my house and I moved her into an assisted living facility. She needed round-the-clock care and my family moved into another house and the owners of the house we lived in, they were getting mail from my mother and reached out to us and said, “We keep getting these letters for your mom.” Well, it was a financial institution and there had been no activity on my mother's account and they were about to turn it over as unclaimed property to the state. This was an account with $50,000 in it and I didn't even know it existed.
And as her power of attorney, I was able to go in, get access to the account. I actually had to jump through quite a few hoops to get access to that account but I did and that money ended up paying for almost a year’s worth of care for my mom. I've heard so many stories about people whose parents had like one person I talked to recently, he had a conversation with his parents about, “Do you have a will?” “Yes, we do.” Mom goes out into the garage and digs to her box and pulls out a binder with the will in it. He said, “If his mom had died, he wouldn't have even known it was in there.” So, the more information you have, the better prepared you're going to be if you had to step in and take over your parent’s finances or when they die so that accounts, stock certificates that are shoved in a shoebox under the bed, they don't just get tossed out.
Casey Weade: I see that. Yeah.
Cameron Huddleston: There's so many stories of those situations where if you don't have a good accounting of what your parents have, things will get lost. And I think your parents would hate to think that money that they might have seen wanting to have seen passed on to you in the form of stock certificate or whatever gets tossed because they didn't let you know where it was and it was shoved in the shoebox or in a box in the garage. So, yes, you do need that information. Even healthcare information, that's especially important and I know that doesn't have to do with finances but if you have a single parent and that parent needs care, that parent goes into surgery, the doctor is going to go to you, first of all, and say, are you their healthcare proxy? Can you make healthcare decisions for them? And then they're going to start asking you about their healthcare issue when they had surgeries and they had this. What are they allergic to? And if you don't know, you're like, “Oh, my gosh.” I mean, still with my mother for all these years I've been helping with her, I still have to jog my memory every time, every time she needs to go into the doctors’ office for a surgery and I'm sitting there racking my brain over her medical history. So, the more information you have, the better off you're going to be.
Casey Weade: I mean, there's some pretty obvious things, I think. Most people know, yes, I should know where the estate planning documents are, do my parents have long-term care? What's the strategy? If they need an assisted living nursing home? What are their wishes? But then there's a lot of these items I think that get overlooked such as medical history. Yeah. How many people would have thought they really needed all of mom and dad's medical history? What do you think? And maybe you've already said them. Are there one or two things that you find are the most often overlooked and important items that need to be known?
Cameron Huddleston: Wow. There's so many because it's just so easy to not realize what you need to know like, oftentimes, you don't know what you need to know until you're thrown into a situation and you're asked these questions where a parent has surgery and you have to let them know, let the doctor know what your parents’ medical history is or what medications they take. Or even a parent who needs help financially, maybe they are older and they've been scammed and they've had an account that was hacked, but they don't remember the password to get into that account or those sorts of things. I don't think there's one thing, in particular, that's overlooked. It's just that there's so many moving parts that it's easy to overlook really almost anything,
Casey Weade: Really, you're stepping into their shoes, financially speaking, so anything that you need to know about your own financial life, you probably need to know about their financial life because it just becomes theirs. And so, I love the resources you have at your website. We will put the domain, the address in the show notes so feel free to go back to the show notes. When you get done listening, follow the link and you'll have all the resources that Cameron has out there. Cameron, you had mentioned scammers and I wasn't going to get to this maybe at all, but since you brought it up, I'm wondering if there are a lot of people that are concerned about their parents getting scammed. And one of the things that I wanted you to speak on was something you called the refusal script that I just thought was such a novel idea and so useful.
Cameron Huddleston: So, if you realize that your parents are the target of those telemarketing and scam calls, I'm sure you've gotten them too and this is. “Hi, I'm calling from…”
Casey Weade: Social Security Administration.
Cameron Huddleston: Social Security Administration, I’m calling from Medicare, I'm calling from the IRS, I'm calling from the sheriff's department because you didn't show up for jury duty. I'm calling with tech support for your computer. I mean, there are so many of those and I would, first of all, encourage you to go to like the Better Business Bureau’s website, the BBB.org, because they have this running list of scams, just to be familiar with the scams that are out there. But if you go to your parents and say, “Mom and Dad, just when you get those calls, just hang up.” If your parents are in their 70s, it really does. It just goes against their DNA to hang up on someone because it's rude. You don't hang up. And you tell them, "Well, check caller ID.” There's spoofing equipment out there that scammers use to make it look like it's a recognizable phone number. I mean, I've gotten phone calls from my own phone number saying or it looks like it's my husband's phone number or whatever so they might pick it up or they might think, "Well, if I don't pick it up, it might be a call from my doctor and I can't miss that call. Or it might be a call from my grandkid or whatever.”
So, instead of telling your parents to hang up if they get a call and it's not someone they recognize, it's not a doctor, it's not someone they've done business with an organization they've given money to in the past, give your parents, like you said, a refusal script that they can use to get off the phone politely. “Oh, thanks for calling, but I can't talk right now. I'm heading out the door.” Or, "Maybe you could give me your number and I'll call back at a later time.” And you let your parents know don't call back that number. If they're claiming to be from an organization, your credit card, the Social Security Administration, look that number up online. Don't ever call back the number that you get from an unsolicited caller. Look the number up, call the company, the organization directly because if you call that number back and they're still claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, they're going to keep walking you through the scam to get your information. So, give them something they can say to get off the phone politely so they're not just hanging up.
Another thing that you might want to point out if you've got a parent who likes to mess with those scammers because they're savvy and they know they're calling them and scamming them, tell them don't stay on the line because scammers also will keep track of how long people are on the line and if they know that this is a number where the person will engage and stay on the line, suddenly that number is sold, is put on list and it's distributed and more scammers are going to have your number and more people are going to be calling your parents. So, encourage if dad likes to mess with the scammer, “Dad, don't do it. Dad, I know it might be kind of fun to mess with these guys but all you're doing is setting yourself up for more calls.”
Casey Weade: I think I've set myself up for more calls in the past.
Cameron Huddleston: And I too but mainly as like I’m a journalist.
Casey Weade: Because those days where you're a little bored, maybe it hasn't really gone your way and…
Cameron Huddleston: And I do it out of professional curiosity. I’m a journalist and so I stay on to see what they're saying and then I can…
Casey Weade: And again, to have even more calls.
Cameron Huddleston: Yes.
Casey Weade: Well, let's talk about this topic as we kind of get near the end here because there might be some listening going, “Yeah, that's all great. I know I need to know these things but mom and dad are going to talk to me about it,” or, “I've already tried and they refused to have the conversation.” And so, what would you say to those individuals that have tried and failed or mom and dad just downright refuse?
Cameron Huddleston: So, first, if you have tried and you did not succeed, don't give up hope. This can take time and that's why I say it's important to try to have these conversations sooner rather than later because sometimes it can take years for your parents to get to a point where they're comfortable enough. I give 10 different conversation starters in my book. So, maybe you tried one approach, try a different one. Timing is everything. You don't want to have these conversations, for example, during a holiday gathering because there are going to be people there who don't need to be part of the conversation. So, last thing your parents want to talk about, "Pass the turkey. Let's talk about your will,” that's a terrible time to have these conversations. And so, you want to time it right when your parents are relaxed, you're not rushed, when perhaps your siblings can be around so you're all having the conversation. If they still refuse, then one of the best ways is to get a third party involved and maybe that is suggesting if you are working with a financial planner, “Hey, Mom and Dad, I've been working with this financial planner. He or she is great. It's been so helpful. Would you like to meet with my financial planner?”
And then you had conversations with your financial planner already saying, “Hey, I really am trying to get through to my parents. I would love it if you met with them, encourage them to talk with me. Maybe you reach out to your parents’ financial planner, attorney, accountant. If they're working with the financial professional, reach out to that person. That person cannot reveal any details about your parents’ finances, but you can ask them, please, please encourage my parents to talk with me. Maybe it's a clergy member, maybe it's the preacher in their church, maybe it's a family member. Maybe they have a trusted family friend who is really on top of planning. And the friend can say to your parents, “I've had these conversations with my kids. It's been great. We're all on the same page. My kids know what to do if something happens to me.” Because oftentimes, parents will look at their children even if they are grown adults as children still and for them, it's uncomfortable to be having this conversation because they feel like they're giving up their power. They're giving up their control. They don't like to think about a role reversal, a time when their kids are going to have to take care of them. So, getting that third party involved can help.
Again, you could ask them to write the information down rather than tell you where that information is, how you can access it, and agree on situations when you can have access to that information or situations when they're going to be willing to talk and share more information with you. Have them make a list of those situations so that you can go back to them and say, “Hey, we made this list and this situation is arising now and it's time to have this conversation. It's time to give me some of that access to the information so that I can help you out.” Those are some ways…
Casey Weade: That’s not ideal, but I like that.
Cameron Huddleston: Right. It’s not ideal. Right.
Casey Weade: I also like that I think a lot of times the parents don't want to have a conversation because it's about money. And you say over and over don't make the conversation about money.
Cameron Huddleston: Right. You don't want to be talking about the dollar amounts in their bank accounts, but at least you want to find out where they bank. You don't need to necessarily find out how much is in their retirement account but, hey, what are your plans for retirement? Do you think you're going to be able to retire when you're 65? Or is it going to be when you're 70? Are you planning on staying in this house? Do you think you're going to downsize? Focusing on those bigger-picture topics can make it easier because you're going to go on the defensive. If someone starts asking you, "Hey, what's your credit score? How much do you have in your bank account? How much money do you make?” People don't like to divulge that sort of information but your parents might be more willing to share what their plans are for retirement, whether they plan to stay in the family home. Your dad said, "This house is going to be yours,” and you said, “Well, maybe not dad.” And maybe even talking about that, "Mom and dad, do you think you're going to stay in this house? Do you think it's going to be right for you as you get older? It's two stories. Maybe it would be better for you to be in a one-story place.”
And letting your parents know because I think a lot of parents maybe like your father's, they think that you as a child, you have this strong attachment to your family home and sometimes just giving your parents’ permission to sell that home, letting them know, “I love living here growing up but it's okay if you want to sell it. It's not going to upset me because what's going to make me happy is knowing you're in a place that’s right for you.” Finding a bigger picture topic like that to start the conversation rather than, “Hey, mom and dad, let's look at the nitty-gritty of your accounts.” That's going to put them on the defensive but getting them to think long-term and then slowly making progress, slowly getting more information over time.
Casey Weade: What if you've already waited too long and now mom and dad are impaired. Mom or dad are already mentally impaired and they don't know where things are at. They're not in a situation where they can sign over power of attorney because they don't have mental capacity. What are the avenues that should be taken if we're at that point?
Cameron Huddleston: You will have to play detective. At that point, you have to get involved. And the sooner you can get involved, the better because if they still have somewhat of their mental capacity, they're going to know at least probably have a general idea of what sort of accounts they have. They might be able to point you to the drawer and the desk where that information is. But I had to play detective with my mom and sometimes going through tax records that's a great place to start. “Mom and dad, can you show me where your tax returns are from years past?” That's going to give you a great picture of their sources of income, what sort of accounts they have. If you can go online and check their credit report, you'll need their social security number. So, if you can get the social security number from your parents and if you just have a little bit of information perhaps whether they have a mortgage and mortgage provider is because you have to provide some level of detail. But if you can get their credit report, that's going to show all the credit accounts they have. That will help you. It's also going to show you whether they have accounts that have been opened fraudulently in their name.
If they have not named you power of attorney and an attorney does not think your parents is competent enough to sign the power of attorney document, the health care proxy in the living will or advanced directive, at that point, really your only option is to go through the court process. And as we discussed, that can be lengthy and expensive. You are putting your parent on trial to prove that your parent is no longer mentally competent. If you know your parents’ passwords, technically, you can get access to accounts but legally you're not allowed to do that. You're not really allowed to go in and do it but if, in the meantime, you've got to pay the bills, you've got to do what you got to do. And I'm not encouraging anyone here. I want to be clear. I'm not encouraging anyone at all.
Casey Weade: Disclaimer.
Cameron Huddleston: Disclaimer. No. We want to go through every legal avenue that you can but if you want to make sure the bills are getting paid and you can do that, yes, you want to make sure the bills are getting paid. But if they haven't already named power of attorney, you will have to go through court proceedings to be legally appointed to be your parent’s conservator to have access to those financial accounts and to make financial decisions for them.
Casey Weade: Well, I really enjoyed this conversation. I think it's one that people need to be having. And as they're listening to this and I've met many kids that are saying, “I need to know what's going on with mom and dad's finances,” but they're not having the conversation with their kids. It seems like it's only one-sided and then, eventually, they'll be there that they won't want to disclose everything to their kids. And so, I love the last chapter in your book saying pay it forward, talk to your kids, start talking to your kids about finances today. When do you think is the appropriate age to start involving the kids in that personal finance discussion? I know you have some younger children and a minor two and four. So, when is the right time and how does this progress maybe over time?
Cameron Huddleston: Certainly, you should be teaching your kids about money from the time they are two and four so that money is not a taboo topic in your family. As your kids get older, certainly by the time they're in college, you can have these conversations with your kids. Even in high school, you can talk about general terms such as your father or, in your case, "Your mother and I,” in my case, "Your father and I were saving for retirement. We make choices about spending so that we can have enough money in the future so that we don't have to rely on you for support, financial support, you’re giving support.” I've told my kids already, “I don't expect you to have to take care of me. I don't want you to ever have to be in that position.” My oldest is now 15. I have a 13-year-old and a seven-year-old. And I've told my daughter's already, “I don't ever expect you to have to take care of me and your dad and I are taking stuff so that you don't have to.” As they get older, as they get into college, I will provide them with more details and as they get out of college, I'm going to be telling them, "Hey, you're adults now. If you have someone else who's relying on you financially, it’s time for life insurance. It’s time to get a will. It's time to do this. And here are where my estate planning documents are. Here's what you need to know.”
I've told my kids. My daughter's already about my final wishes that when I die, I want to be cremated. I've told them that already. They are like, “Oh, no, mom. I don't want to talk about that.” I'm like, “Okay. It's okay. But I want you to know this because you never know when something's going to happen. You can’t assume. We all like to live a very long, healthy life, but you can't assume that's going to happen.” And as soon as your kids are adults, 18 and up, you can start having these conversations. You certainly want to let them know where they can find those documents. You want to give them a general idea of what, maybe your plans are for retirement, especially if your kids are in their 20s and they're starting their own families and maybe they're counting on you, mom and dad, to help out with their grandkids because, oh, mom's retired now. She's going to be there to take care of the kids. “Mom, I have very different plans. Mom, I’d be planning on selling the house, getting an RV, and driving around the country with dad.” And you need to let your kids know what your plans are because they might be counting on you. And they might have to adjust their own plans if your plans are not to be around to help out with the grandkids. So, honestly, these conversations with your own kids need to happen as soon as they're adults.
Casey Weade: Well, I think it's always interesting when I get somebody like you that's been involved in the finance world for as long as you have then that has young children to see how you're teaching those kids to become financially savvy, financially literate, we've got a lot of parents and grandparents that are listening in that want to raise children like that, and they're looking for the best way to do it. And so, what is one thing that has worked really well or is working really well? If you said, “Hey, this is one thing that I got right,” you didn't get everything right, none of us did, but I bet there's one thing that you're really proud that you did with those kids.
Cameron Huddleston: I am most proud of the fact that money is not a taboo topic in our family. We have been talking about money, my husband and I, with our kids from the time they were very little. And it's funny because my middle child who is 13 now a couple years ago, out of the blue, she just came up to me and she said, “Mom, why do people think it's so bad to talk about money?” Because in our family, it's not. We talk about it all the time and I want them to feel comfortable talking about money because I want them to have a healthy relationship with money. We talk about spending decisions. We prefer to spend our money on travel instead of things and we tell the kids that. When they're asking for things, "Well, if we're going to spend money on this then that means we might not be able to take the vacation that I know you enjoy.” My daughters get it. My oldest daughter is a natural saver, so it's been really easy with her. In fact, it almost pains her to spend money. My middle child is somewhere in the middle and I think my lessons are finally paid off with her because when she was little, as soon as she got money, she wanted to spend it and we started talking to her about saving up her money, saving it.
When they’re little, they don't actually get the idea of saving for the future, college, retirement, but they do get the idea of saving for a better toy. And so, just kind of getting them in the habit of understanding delayed gratification, yeah, you can take your $5 and get something junkie now but if you build it up and then you have $50, you can get something a lot better. So, learning that delayed gratification and now that she's older, she doesn't want to save the money for toys. She wants to have money for other things like when she can start driving and helping to pay for the gas for her car. I'm struggling with my youngest child. He's a boy, he's seven, and he's all about keeping up with the Joneses in his classroom and it is a struggle and every day I'm having to remind him, "Do you really need this toy Just because someone else has it?” You don't have to have it but I'm not giving up. I'm constantly sharing those messages with them and trying to reinforce my teachings and my seven-year-old, hopefully, it will sink in over time but I'm still working hard with him.
Casey Weade: I know it's a lot of work. We've got one hard-line saver. He’s four-and-a-half. He's been saving for over a year for his bearded dragon that he wants to get. And we just give a little bit out of time just because I don't know that I am ready for a bearded dragon yet. And then we've got our youngest. He'll probably be the spender. So, I don't know. They're all different. So, I appreciate that insight. I've got one last question for you that I like to wrap up with. This is just a general question and that is what does retirement mean to you?
Cameron Huddleston: Oh, well, it's interesting that you ask that because the definition of retirement I feel like is changing especially with people who are really into the FIRE movement, the Financial Independence Retire Early people and for those people, retirement doesn't necessarily mean no longer working. It means doing work because you enjoy it, not because you're relying on it for financial support. I think for me, even if I'm no longer working as a journalist, I still want to be doing something so retirement for me I think it's similar to what people in the FIRE movement believe. You might still be working, but it's not because you have to support yourself financially. You're doing it because you enjoy it. So, maybe I'm writing about something entirely different from personal finance. I'm writing, you know…
Casey Weade: Instead of writing about Medicare, you’re writing more books like this.
Cameron Huddleston: I mean, it also means taking time to relax into things I enjoy and maybe that's travel or taking classes that are going to enrich me. It doesn't mean checking out entirely and watching TV all day. That is not what retirement is going to be for me.
Casey Weade: Awesome. Sounded like a job optional status is what you're going for.
Cameron Huddleston: Potentially.
Casey Weade: All right. Well, hey, thank you so much for joining us. You've got a wealth of information out there. I am going to direct people to your website. That's CameronHuddleston.com. Get a copy of this book, start having these conversations, use the wealth of resources that are available to you on her website. I know they're going to come in handy for me. I'm going to probably run back and print one of those off and get it over to mom and dad right away. So, thank you so much for your time. It was a wonderful conversation.
Cameron Huddleston: Thank you.