Our parents are getting older and I personally find it a bit surreal to watch. Being in the field of retirement, I’m surrounded with reminders about the aging process — how it relates to money, well-being and its multi-generational impact. I decided to write this letter to encourage those of my generation to take steps now to ensure your parents can retire with dignity and that you too are prepared for what can sometimes feel like a role reversal rollercoaster.

The time is right for us to embrace the true concept of “full circle” and prime ourselves (and our parents) for the process of caring for them as they go through multiple life stages associated with their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond. People are living longer than ever1, but to live well means you need to plan.

The goal of most retirees is pretty simple: to not outlive their money…easier said than done when you have staggering statistics around items like healthcare costs. As an example, according to a 2016 study2, the average lifetime retirement health care premium costs for a 65-year-old, healthy couple covered by Medicare Parts B, D, and a supplemental insurance policy retiring in 2015 is estimated at a whopping $266,589. Wow. Just…wow… I don’t feel like I’m prepared enough to even begin to help navigate that number and that’s only one aspect of the retirement equation.

So what does this all mean for us? Let’s start with some basic factors we should all seek to understand from mom and dad.

  • When do they want to retire and what does “retire” mean for them? If your folks are already retired, how are they spending their time?
  • Do your parents work with an advisor? If not, they probably should. If so, have them introduce you. You see, not all financial professionals are created equal. Some operate in conflicted arrangements where there are incentives for them to sell certain products and services. Others are full planners devoid of such incentives. Find out who they are, how they operate and if you like them.
  • Do they work with other trusted professionals? An accountant, attorney, etc.? Get to know them too.
  • Are your parents financially secure? When a regular paycheck and benefits cease, have they accumulated enough to maintain a similar lifestyle? Can they recover from a surprise expense?
  • Do you know what type of insurance they currently have?
  • Do they have a Will and a Power of Attorney? Directives that state what to do and how to do it?

You need to gather this information, but it can be challenging to come out of the blue with such a direct, personal line of questioning. Try easing in with a softer approach, keeping the data points above in mind.

  • Have you guys thought about where and how you want to spend your time once you’re not working full (or part) time? What would be ideal and what would drive you nuts?
  • Are you working with anyone currently who is helping you plan for retirement? What do you like/dislike about them or that process?
  • Would you be comfortable introducing me so I can contribute/support/be a sounding board for you as you think through what you’d like retirement to look like?
  • Are there any worries that keep you up at night (finances, health, family dynamics, etc.)?
  • Do you feel like you have the right things in place to protect you if something happens?
  • How can I help?

It’s a lot to wrap your head around but it can be a real mess if you wait for a crisis before you get involved. Take it in bite-sized pieces with the end goal of being part of the process.

Throughout my life, my parents have loved me unconditionally and supported me through good times and bad – mentally, physically and financially. I look at the potential to help guide and care for them as an honor and as an opportunity to support them in the same manner they have supported me – full circle.

Not everyone will be in a position to help support their parents financially, but there is a lot we can offer just by educating ourselves and finding the right resources to help them prepare. So join the conversation. Get up to speed on their situation, ask for help and actively participate in the process. Just imagine the difference you can make.

1“Americans Can Now Expect to Live Longer Than Ever,” San Frizell, Time Health, October 8, 2014
2HealthView Services: 2015 Retirement Health Care Costs Data Report