Empowering seniors’ finances through open conversation

December 27, 2012
By Peter O’Neill

Some topics are hard to discuss, even with loved ones. For many people, money is among the more challenging conversations and in some families, the subject of personal finances is downright taboo.

For the sake of our aging seniors, we need to change this mindset.

We owe senior citizens much gratitude. As parents, they spent countless hours bathing, feeding and clothing us. They chased monsters away before bedtime and kissed our scrapes and bruises. As members of our communities, they built and supported our neighbourhoods, institutions and companies. Along the way, they routinely sacrificed their own monetary desires and still managed to save a little money for their retirement.

As adult children, we want our aging relatives to live their remaining years safely, independently and feeling fulfilled. As they get on in years, we may find ourselves taking on more responsibility for their affairs including their finances. So how do we start protecting our parents’ nest egg, especially if this is a sensitive topic? The answer is simple and the best part is it has nothing to do with money.

Just talk. In fact, avoid the topics of money or personal finances all together. The number of other things to chat about is endless; politics, movies, the weather, it doesn’t matter. Your aim is to strengthen ties with your loved ones and start an eventual dialogue about their hopes, fears and challenges.

During these chats, find out as much as you can about the people in your loved ones’ lives. Learn who their friends are and the names of the new people they’ve come to know.

Ask what they talk about with these people and what they do together. Be wary of strangers who seem eager to make fast friends with your loved one; they’re sometimes pushing for more than friendship.

Pay extra attention to people who want to discuss money or legal arrangements; if these topics were forbidden in your household, they’re certainly not appropriate being discussed with ‘new friends.’

It may be time to remind your senior that they can confide in you, seek your advice on matters and discuss recent developments in their lives. Over time, it will be easier to transition your frequent, easy conversations to discussions about more pressing matters when they arise.

As children, we looked to our elders for knowledge and guidance.

They empowered us and now it’s our turn. Help break the sense of isolation many seniors feel through frequent conversation and end these chats by telling them to call you for help any time. There seems to be no end to the number of fraudsters who are always on the prowl for trusting seniors to con.

Make sure your loved one consults you before agreeing to purchases or signing contracts. And if they do get into trouble, urge them to let you know as soon as possible. There is no shame in admitting to mistakes, only tremendous regret in not seeking help. If you can, monitor their bank and credit card accounts and report any suspicious activities to these companies. Call police if you suspect a crime has occurred.

You are not alone in advocating for the seniors in your life.

We are truly blessed to live in a great province with tremendous resources to help you. The Alberta Motor Association’s Advocacy and Community Services focuses in part on crime prevention and consumer protection and their web site is a good starting place.

Take the time this holiday season to become a better advocate for the seniors in your life. All you need to do to begin protecting the financial and overall well-being of your aging loved ones is start a simple conversation.

Peter O’Neill is the Chief Operating Officer of Calgary-based Bridgewater Bank, a fully-owned subsidiary of the Alberta Motor Association.