It’s one of the most uncomfortable topics you may face, and one of the most important – discussing your parents’ financial situation.

In many ways, it’s easier for parents to talk about the “birds and the bees” with their own kids than it is to talk with elderly parents about money. The latter conversations turn the tables on the traditional parent-child order, and concerns about trust, independence and mortality add to the dynamic.

Material matters

By one estimate cited by USA Today , scams and elder abuse cost Americans more than $36 billion a year. We encourage you to talk with your parents about how to spot and avoid scams that can wipe out their life savings. Scammers might come in the form of phone calls, direct mail or that new neighbor who seems just a little too friendly.

By having a conversation, your parents can develop steps to take to avoid being defrauded and what to do if it happens.

According to USA Today , nearly one-third of parents older than 60 say they’ve never discussed later-life needs with their family. These issues include end-of-life directives and funeral plans, inheritance and beneficiaries, power of attorney, and even where important documents are kept. We urge you to have this conversation now.

Independence day

Aging parents don’t like to acknowledge that they might need help as their physical health declines. Losing their independence is a real worry that scares many seniors. They’ve been making their own decisions for decades, and it’s hard and sometimes impossible for them to give up control.

But it’s not just your parents who are hesitant to have these important talks. It can be difficult for you too, because you don’t want to seem greedy, as if you’re only having these discussions to get to your parents’ money.

Eighty-five percent of long-term care decisions are made when a medical crisis arises – and about 70 percent of seniors need some form of long-term care, according to PBS News Hour.

If you haven’t talked with your parents, decisions are made on the fly with the real possibility of care being delayed, things being overlooked, things being forgotten – all of which have financial risks associated.

A little tenderness

You need to understand your feelings before inviting your parents to talk. Just because you know that you need to talk about these issues doesn’t make it any easier to get into the nuts and bolts of the conversation.

Processing your feelings can help lessen any anxiety over having a financial dialogue with your parents. Expressing how difficult the discussions might be may also help to put your parents at ease. You should tell your parents that you are talking to them about these issues out of love and respect.

Here are some additional tips for handling these conversations:

• When sharing concerns with your parents, you need to be specific. If you show loving concern and are specific about the cause of your concerns, your parent is more likely to understand.

• The conversation should be brief. Asking one or two questions at a time is better than bombarding your parent with inquiries, and it’s more beneficial to have three 30-minute talks than one 90-minute conversation. Keeping it short helps everyone focus on one discussion item at a time, and it helps keep emotions from getting out of control.

• You need to let your parents lead whenever possible. This lets your parents know that you are there to support them, and not to take over every aspect of their lives.

• Take notes on how your parents want their affairs to be handled, get it in writing, and then put an estate plan in place which covers all of your concerns and theirs; regarding durable powers of attorney for financial assets, a health care directive, and living will. Include a Personal property memorandum regarding which family treasures should be designated for whom.

• Finally, you need to go into these conversations knowing you’ll need to talk about this regularly. One conversation isn’t going to put everything neatly into place. As time passes, new concerns may arise that demand attention. You can make progress, one conversation at a time.

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