things no one tells you: parent edition

“…and I don’t WANT to go to her house, I want to stay at my own house and watch my TV,” says my dad, in reference to his youngest sister inviting him over just to hang out. She does this because he is her last surviving brother and she cares about him, but he is content to sit in his recliner and watch westerns all afternoon.

Things no one tells you…your parents become ornery as they age. Yes sisters, your parents who reprimanded you for even looking like you had an attitude will cop one in a minute and dare you to speak on it. My dad is now 78 and after hip surgery and an outright refusal to have cataracts removed, I am convinced the older he gets the more unwilling he is to listen to anything I suggest. I get it, he’s lived 35 years longer than I and has greater wisdom, of that there is no doubt. But when it comes to traveling, smartphones, computers, and google I am the resident expert and it would serve him well to listen up.

He has been frustrated by the taxes he pays every year as a retiree. I’ve asked repeatedly, have you considered finding a new tax accountant? I’m sure there are tax shelters for retirees. He grunts and mumbles and ignores the advice. Here’s the deal. In our younger years, our parents’ guided us as we entered the workforce. They explained insurance deductibles, W2s, W4s and advised which form to use when filing state (if required) or federal taxes. But as they near retirement, the shift happens from receiving guidance to giving it. If your parents are traditionalists like mine, they may be savvy enough to order packages from amazon but not tech savvy enough to google the motleyfool and read up on investment advice. You, as a member of GenX or GenY will become their search engine and it’s your responsibility to ensure they don’t lose their hard earned income in retirement due to poor tax shelter planning.

I watched my dad labor faithfully at the same company for 44 years. Every pay period he would open his steno pad and write out his bills; the tithe was ALWAYS first. He explained the importance of the order, of paying bills on time and the taxes the government takes off the top. The one thing we never discussed was investments and retirement planning. And now that I see what is happening to his finances I realize that’s something I must investigate for myself and for him. Although he has more years behind than in front of him, I want to see him enjoy the rest of his days with as much of his income in hand as possible. That means I must take action and do the research for him, find the shelters, the loopholes others have found and help him move his money around so that he is not hit with a $3000 tax bill annually.

Sisters, I implore you, pay attention to your parents finances. For black families, money discussions are a taboo (among other things, but that’s another post). Don’t ask me about mine, I won’t ask about yours “cuz I ain’t got no money to give you.” But when our parents reach a certain age, it’s time to ask the uncomfortable questions:

  1. Do you have a will?
  2. Life insurance?
  3. A burial plot?
  4. How is your retirement savings constructed?
  5. When is your next tax accountant appointment?

Each inquiry must have a sufficient answer. If not, you will find your parents income strapped and struggling to pay for increasingly expensive medications and not enjoying the quality of life they afforded you during your formative, college, and for some of you, post-college years.

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