So your parents are getting ready to retire

You’re in your late 20s or 30s, and your parents are getting ready to retire. They’ve had long careers and are getting ready to enjoy their golden years.

As our parents start to age, we all have to confront some uncomfortable truths about how the nature of our relationships are going to shift. It’s important to think about (and, even more importantly, talk about) what these changes are going to mean for your parents and how you can plan together as a family.

In this post I’m going to discuss some important topics that you should discuss with your parents about the aging process. It is critical to start these conversations long before your parents begin to either lose their faculties or become disabled — it is much easier to talk about (and agree upon) the right time to stop driving before it is an issue. In the best case scenario, having the conversation today can smooth the way to ease the more difficult conversation down the road.

There are three main topics you will want to think about and cover in these conversations:

  • How your parents plan to live as they age
  • Their financial situation and their plans for paying for retirement

All of these topics are uncomfortable to discuss, especially if your family has a culture of avoiding conversations about such sensitive topics. Nevertheless, it is critical to start having these conversations as soon as possible — you may be surprised by what you learn about your own parents!

How your parents want to live

As your parents grow older and begin to start thinking about retirement, it is important to understand their preferences so that they can lead full and independent lives. Many older people never stop to think about what they actually want and as their lives they change they drift into a state of unhappiness but feel they lack the power to make the changes they need in their lives.

I believe there are three critical topics to cover

  • How they plan to stay healthy
  • How they plan to stay social
  • Their preferences for their living situation

How they plan to stay healthy

If you want your parents to live a long time, it’s critical to talk to them about their plans for staying healthy. You have probably already noticed some changes as they have gotten older — maybe they can’t go for long bike rides with you anymore, or maybe they’re starting to have trouble getting up from the couch or doing the yard-work they used to find so easy.

Unfortunately, as many people age, as the activities they used to do to keep them in good shape become difficult, they stop doing any activities at all. It’s critical to have a plan for staying active especially as the activities becomes more difficult due to aging joints and potential disabilities.

In addition to physical health, it’s important to have a plan to keep them mentally healthy. A retirement that consists solely of sitting on the couch all day and watching television will increase their chances of both physical and cognitive decline. Staying active mentally is important both to cognitive health as well as leading a full, enjoyable life.

If your parents do not have hobbies they are engaged with, it might be a good time to help them find something that will keep them engaged once work is no longer a driving force in their lives. They could consider:

  • Volunteering
  • Getting more involved at church or other community organization
  • Taking educational courses (community colleges, online, etc)

All of these are great ways to stay engaged, continue learning, and maintain a sense of purpose in their lives.

How they plan to stay social

We mentioned the value of staying social above, but it’s critical to emphasize this because of how important it is to people’s happiness to remain social. Many people do not fully appreciate the value they get from socializing at work, even if it’s at a job they don’t like very much, and finding a way to maintain a strong social life throughout retirement is critical.

While family is the cornerstone of the social life for many people, today many older people live far from their children or other family members who have moved across the country for job opportunities. Even if you do live near your aging parents, it’s very easy to de-prioritize spending quality time with them when you have your own family or other social obligations to attend to. Establishing a regular cadence for get-togethers (like a weekly dinner) can help make sure the family comes together.

Outside of the family, helping them get integrated with their community can be a great way to get them out of the house and maintaining a healthy social life. It doesn’t have to be a group specifically for seniors (often it’s better if not!), but you may be to able to leverage their existing interests or passions to help them find something that will be interesting to them. Anything from a woodworking class to a motorcycle club can be a great way to stay social outside of the workplace.

Their preferences for their living situation

When it comes to home and neighborhood, many people have different preferences that may shift as they age. For example, some people may want to continue living in the home they have always lived in because they are most comfortable there. Others may be interested in exploring the options of senior living communities. Still others, once all of the kids are out of the house, may be interested in downsizing to move into a more urban area with more bars and restaurants. Another option is getting rid of the house altogether in order to spend time traveling (either in an RV, on cruise ships, or just staying in AirBnBs and hotels).

Financial situation and retirement plans

Finally, it’s important to talk with your parents about their finances as they get ready for retirement. If your parents are not as financially savvy as you are, it can be amazingly beneficial for you to sit down with them to review their finances and help them plan. While a full financial review is beyond the scope of this post, you likely want to cover the following topics

  • Will: do they have one, and where is it?
  • Nest egg & budgeting: how much money have they saved for retirement, and have they made a budget for when they retire? At what age will they run out of money?
  • Life insurance: do they have a life insurance policy, and if so what are the key terms and conditions?
  • Long-term care / LTCI: do they have a plan for if they need long-term care? Does this need to budgeted for from their savings or do they long-term care insurance?


Unless your family is much more open than mine, having these conversations will not be easy. There will likely be some uncomfortable moments as you discuss finances, and no one ever wants to talk about getting hold.

However, starting the conversation today will pay off in the long run by making future conversations easier. And, if all goes well, you’ll be helping your parents prepare for a happy and healthy retirement.


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