Data and Research

Financial Wellness is Better with Family

A new study highlights the idea of financial independence in retirement and suggests retirees should turn to family for financial support as they age.

By Javier Simon | December 20, 2016
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A new study highlights the idea of financial independence in retirement and suggests retirees should turn to family for financial support as they age.

Even though most seniors don’t want to imagine running through retirement savings and being unable to manage their money, they are likely to experience it, according to a new study by Fidelity Investments. The report found that 60% surveyed admit having witnessed it happen to a friend or family member—and 40% actually helped manage their own parents’ finances.

“The possibility of losing financial independence is something for which we all need to plan,” says Suzanne Schmitt, vice president of Family Engagement, Fidelity Investments. “That’s why it’s important for families to be in sync about what needs to happen in the event it’s necessary to help take control of financial decision-making for a loved one. By engaging in conversations now and having a strong support system in place, families can help loved ones gracefully transition into that next phase of their lives.”

The threat to financial wellness may be exacerbated by increased life-expectancies among all Americans, as well as the risk of encountering ailments associated with old age such as dementia.

Fidelity writes, “For many Americans, needing help with the management of finances at some point during retirement is not a matter of if, but when—especially since studies show that financial decision-making peaks around age 53 and gradually declines, even among healthy individuals. Moreover, 60% of older adults worry about burdening their families with the task of managing the finances. However, eight in 10 adults say they are eager to be involved in the process of helping their parents manage their money in retirement.

As every family’s financial situation is unique, there is no definitive roadmap to follow in addressing this burden. However, there may be a good place to start.

Three-quarters of older Americans surveyed say it’s very important to maintain the ability to manage day-to-day finances. In contrast, less than half place a similar importance on managing investments. Fidelity argues that this suggests family involvement might initially focus on financial matters with a long-term horizon, such as investments and one’s estate, and gradually shift to more sensitive issues involving health care and day-to-day spending.

The firm points to three “tipping points” that adult children should be aware of that may signal the need to step-in and get involved in a more direct fashion with the finances: When a parent or loved one makes a direct request for financial assistance, when age starts to become a significant factor, or when parents turn 75 years old – this, on average, is when children step in and let parents take the financial planning backseat.

But they may need to steer their parents in the right direction even sooner.

“The process of comfortably and thoughtfully moving from independence to interdependence is critically important,” says Schmitt. “Well before a tipping point has been reached, families need to be prepared and make sure they have a transition plan in place—and the good news is, there are several benefits to building a strong family financial safety net. Doing so allows parents the ability to maintain their current lifestyle for as long as possible, helps them preserve their assets and may increase the likelihood they won’t fall victim to fraud. Best of all, most parents appreciate the assistance, so it can help forge stronger bonds.”