Many adult children are called upon to help their aging parents as life changes set in, yet only 65 percent of siblings report talking about money with one another, according to research by Ameriprise Financial. While only 15 percent of siblings have conflicts over money, when siblings do spar over finances, it's usually about their parents' situation. Financial conversations between siblings become inevitable, as brothers and sisters manage their parents' money matters, including estate planning, healthcare, retirement income and wills.
In the event that you have shared responsibilities with your siblings down the road, it's important to make sure your family is on the same page. Here are some tips to help you and your siblings have civil conversations about money-related family matters.
Set aside your differences. When your parents need help, don't waste your time re-hashing old family feuds. Keep yourself in check if you are tempted to fall into old patterns of behavior that may alienate grown-up siblings. You may not be able to control how your siblings behave, but you can control your own actions.
Determine key priorities. You'll accomplish more - and potentially spar less - when everyone is committed to common goals. Assess what financial matters you and your siblings will need to manage together. If your parents' safety is a primary concern, find agreement about the support and services they need to remain safely in the family home. If it's time for your parents to move to an assisted living facility, put your energy into seeking a solution.
Schedule time to talk. Schedule regular check-ins with your siblings to discuss pressing topics related to your parents' care, including how finances are being managed. Frequent conversations can help diminish anxiety and improve collaboration. Ongoing dialogue will help prevent misunderstandings from blowing up into full-fledged battles and help keep your parents' best interest top-of-mind.
Divide and conquer. It's important to set responsibilities, with the understanding that each sibling may be able to contribute different amounts of time, money and expertise. Be forthright about what you can reasonably handle and open to taking on more tasks if you have the capacity. Keep in mind that responsibilities may shift over time, as circumstances change for you and your siblings.
Be open to advice. Bringing outside sources into your inner circle can help provide unbiased guidance as you enter this new phase of life. Your parents' tax preparer, financial planner and other trusted advisors could provide an important bridge to understanding their current financial situation. Once you're ready to plan the next steps for your family, consider working with a single financial advisor. This approach allows the advisor to help you create a comprehensive plan that addresses everyone's needs and concerns.
Money conversations can be emotional and hard to initiate, but keep in mind that there are benefits to having open communication. Families who are willing to tackle money-related topics are often more confident about their ability to handle financial challenges and work toward their goals.