It’s really hard to watch your parents suffer financially after all they’ve done for you. You might want to jump in and take over their mortgage or pick up other bills to ease their burden, but by doing so you could create more problems for yourself and your family. Take a step back and review your own finances before jumping in with cash to bail out your parents so that your kids aren’t caught in the same situation when you get older.
Start by going over your parents’ finances closely. As they age, your folks might not be as sharp as they used to be and could end up making mistakes, such as giving away too much money to their favorites charities or forgetting to record certain purchases. They might also make accounting errors in subtraction or addition that lead to inaccuracies in their monthly budgets. It's also possible that they have accounts stashed away they forgot about or have their money tied up with an advisor who’s not necessarily giving them the best advice.
Go to the bank with your parents and have them give you permission to access their accounts over the Internet. This will let you monitor their spending and watch how they are using their limited income. Attend a meeting with their financial advisor so you can explain the situation your parents might be too embarrassed to talk about in front of others.
Look into the possibility of helping your parents get a reverse mortgage. According to the AARP, a reverse mortgage is "a special type of loan that allows you to borrow against the equity that you've built up in your home. Unlike a traditional home equity loan, a reverse mortgage doesn't need to be paid back immediately, perhaps not even during your lifetime. That means no monthly checks to write to your lender." Applicants must be at least age 62 to qualify, and they can put the money toward anything, including medical bills and home improvements. Your parents will still have to pay taxes and insurance as well as possibly hefty fees. They also must live in the house and meet other requirements, but most condos and single-family homes qualify.
Talk to your siblings and other relatives about chipping in a certain amount each month to give to your parents. You most likely can afford a smaller amount that won’t set you back substantially, and if you come from a big family, your parents will get a nice chunk to help with the monthly mortgage.
- If your parents are low income and live primarily on Social Security, you might be able to claim them on your tax returns as a dependent. Talk to your accountant about your situation because the tax credit can help to make up for the support you do give them. You can even share the tax credit with siblings who are pitching in to help.
- Be prepared for your parents to balk at the suggestion that you want to look through their finances. Previous generations placed a great deal of their pride in their ability to pay their bills and take care of their families and might resent the intrusion, even though they are in trouble. Ease into the conversation by talking about your own finances and ask how they manage their money.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."