Later Life Planning: No One Said It Would Be Easy – Brian Zdrowak

This past October, as I was flying back from Florida, I tried to wrap my mind around how a family birthday party resulted in tears and surprise after my mom suggested that she and my dad wanted to move in with my brother and his family. Shortly after returning to Buffalo, I called my mom to thank her for having the courage to start a conversation about later life planning. I asked what had caused her to make a 180-degree turn, going from “We will take care of each other” to having an honest discussion with the family. The bottom line was she was afraid — afraid of running out of money and of not having options.

Since I had plans to visit Florida again, I asked my parents if they would like some help looking over their finances and talking about what was on their mind. They surprised me with how eager they were to meet and forwarded me their financial information, including budget, investments and latest tax return. It is hard to imagine the day will come when I may go to my kids for help.

As I looked over my parents’ information, I did so fully aware that they are very independent and have a stubborn pride (that’s where I get it). Therefore, to be helpful, I needed to be both honest and gracious.

We met a few weeks ago and had a great conversation. I learned my parents had different goals in retirement: My dad wanted to travel and never have to worry about buying something that he wanted, while my mom was the opposite, worrying about making their savings last and trying to cut costs. At some point, I realized my parents did not talk — I mean really talk — about money. You don’t stay married for as long as they have without some level of discussion about money. It appeared, however, that my parents were struggling to address some tough money choices, something they probably had not done since I was a child. My personality is such that I love to help others and especially like to assist in fixing problems. (My wife calls me Mr. Fixit.) I left our meeting thinking, “All fixed” — it appeared all that my parents needed was a few hours with Brian.

Reality set in about a week later. I called my parents, excited to find out what parts of our discussion had been put into place. I found out instead that they had decided to wait until May/June to start with the plan. I cannot remember the reason for their delay; most likely it was the thought of changing what they had been doing financially for more than 40 years. The point is, sitting down as a family, talking about finances and plans for later life can be upsetting, surprising and a bonding experience. My mistake was thinking this can be a one-and-done meeting.

Change takes time, especially as we get older and become entrenched in our routines. Therefore, ask questions, listen and be patient. No one ever said that doing the right thing would be easy.

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