Talking to parents about their finances can be a challenge. However, sometimes it’s the parents who run into a challenge when trying to talk about their finances with their kids.

I’ve heard this from parents who have reached out to me asking for advice on how to get through to children who are reluctant to have family money talks. I also recently heard from a financial planner who said his some of his clients are having trouble getting their twentysomething daughter to discuss their financial outlook and long-term care planning.

So what do you do when you want to have essential conversations about your finances with your kids but they don’t want to talk?

Pinpoint why your kids are afraid to talk

In the first chapter of my book, Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk, I acknowledge that many adult children are afraid to talk to their parents about their parents’ finances. Often they’re reluctant to broach the topic because they think their parents won’t want to talk.

However, plenty of adult children don’t want to have the conversation because it forces them to think about something that really scares them—aging and death. As one young man I interviewed for my book said, “I really don’t like those conversations. I’m really not fond of talking about the death of my parents as a potential thing.”

If you can pinpoint what’s behind their unwillingness to talk, that can help you figure out what to avoid saying when starting these conversations.

The conversation might also seem scary to your children because they might be afraid that you’re going to ask them for financial or caregiving support as you age. They might be afraid to hear that you’re worried about whether you’ll have enough saved for retirement. They might be afraid that you’re going to tell them you’re selling the family home and plan to travel the country in an RV.

There are a variety of reasons your kids might be dodging this conversation. If you can pinpoint what’s behind their unwillingness to talk, that can help you figure out what to avoid saying when starting these conversations.

Know what not to say

Let’s say you recognize that your kids don’t want to think about aging and death. If that’s the case, don’t start family money talks by bringing up your will or final wishes. For example, you wouldn’t want to say, “Kids, I just wanted you to know that I met with my attorney to update my will.” They might automatically assume the worst—that you’re trying to get things in place because you got a terminal diagnosis.

You don’t have to avoid difficult conversations altogether. However, you’ll have more success making your kids comfortable with these conversations if you avoid using words such as these:

  • Worried
  • Afraid
  • Emergency
  • Worst-case scenario

How to start the conversation

You’ll have more luck getting your kids to listen to you if you start these conversations with reassuring words. You want to give them peace of mind that you’ll be OK as you age, so you can try using the following:

  • I want us all to be on the same page.
  • I want you to know that I am prepared financially.
  • I want you to be aware of what steps I’ve taken.

There are a variety of other strategies you can use to start these conversations in a natural way, as opposed to saying, “Let’s sit down and talk.” If you’ve been meeting with an accountant or financial advisor, you could talk about your financial planning experience. You could use current events—the pandemic, for example—to highlight the need for planning. You could even offer your kids financial advice if they’ve just started a job, gotten married or had a child by sharing steps you took (or wish you had taken) when you were their age.

What to discuss

Once you get your kids comfortable with the idea of talking with you about your finances, be aware that you don’t have to tell them everything they need to know at once. That can be overwhelming.

Instead, consider having a series of conversations. You could start with the easy stuff first, such as where you keep important documents or perhaps even what your plans for retirement are. Work your way up to more sensitive topics, such as what sort of support you might need from your kids if you have a health emergency.

You don’t have to tell your kids everything – as in, who gets what when you die or how much is in your retirement savings account. However, provide them with this key information that will allow them to step in and help you with money matters if something were to happen to you and to prepare their own finances if you expect to count on them for support.

  • Whether you have estate planning documents—such as a will, power of attorney and advance directive—and where the documents are located
  • Your plans for retirement
  • What sort of long-term care planning you’ve done and whether you’re counting on your kids to help
  • How you pay your bills and how they can be paid if something happens to you
  • What sort of financial accounts you have (checking, savings, credit cards, retirement savings, brokerage account)
  • What sources of income you have
  • What sort of insurance policies you have
  • Names and contact information for financial professionals you work with
  • Final wishes

Consider making a detailed list of your personal, financial and medical information (you can download this free In Case of Emergency Organizer). You could give it to your children or hang onto it and tell them how to access it and under what circumstances. By giving them as many details about your finances as possible, you’ll be giving your children peace of mind that they have the information they need if something were to happen to you.