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Aging parents: Your adult kids aren't total ingrates like you think they are

Lisa Scherzer
Personal Finance Editor
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Parents getting closer to retirement might be (pleasantly) surprised to learn their offspring expect to help them out. According to a new Fidelity Investments Family & Finance Study, most parents (93%) feel it’s wrong to become financially dependent on one's kids, but only 30% of adult children surveyed feel the same. So parents might not want to become a financial burden — despite the fact that their kids expect and are willing to step in and help.

See, parents, your children aren’t total ingrates: All those years supporting them might finally pay off.

The findings “point to the fact that adult children are looking at their parents and their parents’ need for help not as an obligation, but as an opportunity to help, to pay them back,” says Suzanne Schmitt, vice president for family engagement at Fidelity Investments. Parents are often under the impression that they must be entirely self-sufficient in retirement, and they make decisions based on that assumption — including where they are or aren’t able to travel and generally what kind of lifestyle they can afford.

“If they knew their kids might help out, it could radically improve their life,” she says.

That might be the only real bit of positive news from the study, however. The Fidelity report, conducted every two years, found other issues where parents and their adult children are not in agreement:

-Estate planning: 92% of parents expect one of their children will assume the role of executor of their estate. But when asked, around 27% of the kids identified as filling this role didn’t know about it.

-Caregiving: While 72% of parents expect one of their kids to assume long-term caregiver responsibilities in retirement if needed, 40% of children didn’t know of this expectation. (One surprising trend from the report: A growing number of millennials are providing caregiving support for a parent.)

-Managing money: 69% of parents surveyed expect one of their children will help manage their finances in retirement, but more than one-third of kids who were identified for this responsibility weren’t clued in.

Overall, nearly four in 10 families disagree on roles and responsibilities as parents age — whether that’s who’s going to provide care, or who’s going to serve as executor of a parent’s estate.







Survey after survey have illustrated similar communication gaps when it comes to talking about money with family. Few people like talking about getting old, dying and how much money they do or don’t have. A T. Rowe Price study recently found that parents are more than willing to overspend on their kids but are reluctant to discuss money with them. Another found that Americans would rather talk about sex than money.

All this, of course, is fodder for Fidelity (and other money managers) to urge people to start planning. And the earlier the better; Schmitt says often families are forced into these conversations when there’s a health crisis or a death. You can find Fidelity’s resources for families here and here. (You can find plenty of resources online.)

Fidelity interviewed 1,273 parents age 55 and over (who had investable assets of at least $100,000 and a child older than 25) and 221 adult children older than 25 with money in an IRA, 401(k) or another investment account; the adult kids 30 and older needed to have at least $10,000 saved.