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How can I help my parents prepare for retirement?

Posted by Cheryl Costa  September 11, 2008 10:19 AM

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I am very concerned about my in-laws' financial situation. They are in their mid- and late-60s, still working, and to my knowledge, have no retirement money saved. The only thing that I see as an asset is their house, which is probably worth over $1 million, though I'm certain they have a number of loans against it.

What financial issues should we anticipate as they get older? In cases like this, will the responsibility of paying for their medical treatment (should it be necessary) or debts fall on us?

This is certainly a very tough situation. It seems to me that your in-laws will almost certainly have to continue working well into their 70s and possibly longer. You (and they) have to hope that their health is good enough to permit that.

I would suggest approaching your parents with your concerns. It is possible that they have some retirement savings that you are not aware of. Tell them that you are concerned about their future financial security and ask them if they think they might need some professional assistance. There are many financial planners who do financial "check-ups" and maybe you could arrange one for your in-laws. Cost for these kinds of meetings would be approximately $500. You won't get a full plan with this type of consulation but the planner can make the "tough calls" about what kind of retirement your in-laws will face if they can't change their habits.

If your in-laws started aggressively saving right away, they could still build a retirement nest egg. They should also probably delay taking Social Security until age 70 so they can receive the largest possible benefit. It might also be necessary for them to sell their home, pay off their loans and move to a less expensive property when they retire. They may even have to relocate to a less expensive area of the country.

You would generally not be legally responsible for any of your parents expenses or debts but you might feel an emotional obligation to help them out if their situation becomes particulary dire. If you think this will be the case, you should adjust your financial plans accordingly.

This is one of the big reasons that financial planners always tell clients to save for their own retirement first. It doesn't do anyone any good if parents direct all of their excess savings to their children's college tuition at the expense of their own retirement.

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Local finance professionals share insights and advice on issues such as budgeting, managing debt, and retirement planning.

About the contributors

D. Abraham Ringer is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER practitioner and a Financial Adviser with Morgan Stanley Global Wealth Management in Boston. He is registered in MA, NH, NY and several other states to which his articles are directed. For more information please visit
Financial Planning Association™ of Massachusetts has 900 members who specialize in the financial planning process. Many of its members engage in philanthropic pro bono work in their communities, recommend legislation, elevate public awareness, promote financial literacy, and advocate for sound economic and tax policies.
Odysseas Papadimitriou is the founder of, a credit card and gift card marketplace, and, a personal finance site. He has more than 13 years of experience in the personal finance industry, and previously served as senior director at Capital One.

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