How To Talk to Your Parents About Account Information

With sensitivity and an eye on common goals

A parent and adult child sit at a kitchen table and review documents.
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shapecharge / Getty Images

Discussing estate planning is challenging in many families, but convincing your independent mom and dad to tell you their PayPal account ID and password may be at a whole new level. Sharing account information and passwords can ensure your parents’ information is as safe (and easy to access) as possible. But then again, asking for the data could trigger unexpected emotions in your parents.

Learn how to make your way through this potential minefield of emotion, logins, passwords, and financial accounts.

Key Takeaways

  • Be sensitive to issues around independence and control that talking about accounts and money can trigger for parents.
  • Create a plan for account sharing. For example, under what circumstances do your parents want or need assistance from an adult child?
  • Understand your legal role in account access and meet with a lawyer to ensure it’s correctly implemented.
  • Account, login, and password sharing is required across various financial institutions, online assets, and everyday debts and bills.

Starting the Conversation

Start discussions about money management with accounts as early as possible, said Seattle-based financial therapist Carina Catalano by email with The Balance. Don’t wait until a medical issue such as a stroke or a degenerative condition such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease leaves a parent unable to communicate.

You may face resistance at first. “If so, acknowledge their feelings. You know it’s hard, but you would like them to think about it more,” Catalano said. Return to the subject again as soon as it feels appropriate.

She suggested asking open-ended questions like: "If anything happens where I or one of the siblings need to step in to pay your bills or take care of your other financial issues, how would you feel most comfortable handling that?"

Talk about your worries. Where would you look, or what would you do to manage the finances?  What happens if bills go unpaid? Ask if you can openly discuss the matter, as it’s essential to understand your parents’ finances, in order to help.

Reassure them that you are seeking their protection, Catalano said. Acknowledge how this must feel for them, based on what you know of their views on their finances. For example, you might say, "This must be hard for you to talk about. I know you are very independent and feel private about your finances. I understand.”

“Sometimes, having a third, independent party present can help normalize the conversation and give parents feelings of security that everyone's intentions are in their best interests,” Catalano said.

Note

An estate attorney can ensure all documents are up-to-date and help broach the subject of finances. A financial planner may help you and your parents sort options and accounts. Some financial therapists specialize in issues with aging parents, including family roles and expectations in these adjustments.

What if parents don’t want their children involved in their finances? “Explain and normalize that some plan needs to be in place, and suggest that they hire a fiduciary and financial planner to handle and manage and/or monitor their finances instead of their adult children,” Catalano said.

Creating a Plan

First, you’ll need to decide when and how you’ll have access to a parent’s accounts. For example, your parents might want assistance with finances as they age. In other cases, parents might only want help paying bills if they’ve lost mental capacity, or may not even like to share information until after death.

For example, California estate attorney Carmen Rosas told The Balance by email that her father recently underwent eye surgery and could not log in to accounts to pay taxes and credit card bills. Fortunately, she and her brother were able to create a spreadsheet of account logins they share via email to pay bills for him.

Let your parents know you’re interested and willing to help, able to make decisions in your parents’ best interest, and will include them in decision-making. You’ll keep their money separate from yours and keep good lists and receipts of everything they receive or spend on their behalf. Recordkeeping might involve keeping track of money, investments, property and debts, bills paid, and information on government or employer benefit eligibility.

Discussing Roles for Access

State law varies when implementing the preferred form of financial management. Check with an elder-law attorney and/or your bank to learn more before taking action, and ensure roles are part of an estate plan. Options for accessing parental accounts include:

  • Guardianship/Conservatorship: The guardian of the property may be appointed by a court or named in estate planning documents. However, the guardian or conservator cannot act on your behalf before your incapacitation.
  • Durable power of attorney: Someone with durable power of attorney can act on a parent’s behalf regarding money or property. This allows you, as the agent, to pay bills or manage other financial matters before incapacitation—and after as well, or until the parent’s death.
  • Springing power of attorney: This type of power of attorney only begins when mental incapacitation occurs and often requires validation by a physician.
  • Joint accounts: If a parent adds you to their account to create a joint account, you’ll have access to the cash just like the parent. While this can ensure some peace of mind because you can monitor your parent’s spending and savings, you’ll also bear any responsibilities as a joint account holder.
  • Executor: This is the person named in your parents’ will to handle financial affairs after your parents’ deaths. The executor could be the same or different person from the conservator or power of attorney.

“Creating a power of attorney and a trust is always the best way to protect your parents' assets,” Rosas said. “It will allow someone they select (you or another trusted individual) to have access to their assets without having to petition the court to grant access to accounts.”

Note

In some states, it’s possible to create Transfer on Death accounts for financial accounts and sometimes deeds. The account’s assets transfer directly to a beneficiary.

Methods for Sharing Account Information

It’s essential to first establish the need for the adult children’s involvement in their parents’ finances before addressing logistics such as passwords, Catalano said. “If you don’t have this buy-in ahead of time, parents may react strongly to being asked to hand over passwords to their accounts, and this can be counterproductive,” she said. Once everyone agrees on your involvement, then discuss accounts and passwords.

You can store passwords in a variety of ways, Rosas said:

  • Excel spreadsheet
  • Paper and pencil
  • LastPass, Dashlane, 1Password, or another password-sharing app or service

An adult child can store the passwords securely in an app if they have their parent’s permission to do so, Catalano said. “Explaining to parents that this may be a more secure and convenient way to keep everything safe can also help, without overwhelming them with all the details of how to use the apps on their phone or computer.”

If your parents don't want to provide you with access now, Rosas suggested asking if they can put a master password for something like a phone, laptop, or password keeper in a physical place—such as under a mattress’s right-hand corner.

Let parents know you understand their trepidation and that it’s OK to write down passwords for retrieval only when, or if, needed, Catalano said. Agree to only access the information if the parents cannot give consent or provide permission. “This may give parents an added layer of privacy and control, which could be a good first step while the parent adjusts to the changes,” she said.

Account Types

Sharing information may be easier—or more overwhelming—than you first imagine, but much depends on your parents’ assets and accounts, including income, investments, insurance, and debts. “You'll want your parents to essentially take an inventory of everything they own or use regularly, so you are able to collect and manage the accounts as necessary,” Rosas said.

Account Information

Put together a complete list of accounts where your parents keep, receive, or invest money. These may include:

  • Banks and credit unions: Checking, savings, and money market accounts
  • Retirement accounts: IRA, 401K, Social Security, pensions
  • Debit card numbers
  • Insurance information and policy numbers (life, long-term care, health)
  • Brokerage with stocks, bonds, and mutual funds
  • Any stocks or bonds held personally (on paper)
  • Loans due to your parent
  • Safe deposit boxes

Depending on the account type, account information to track could include:

  • Type of account
  • Name and contact information of bank/credit union/brokerage/trust or other entity
  • Name on policy
  • Account number
  • Account User ID and passwords
  • Current value
  • Any authorized users
  • Beneficiary
  • Any direct deposit to an account (and information on the account)
  • Last date of update

Note

Many older adults don’t remember to list safe deposit boxes among their accounts, Rosas said. Because they’re physical objects, no one often knows what’s in them unless someone keeps track.

Debts

With debts, include the financial institution, amount, and how and when they’re paid. For example: The mortgage payment is $1,000, delivered to XYZ Bank, account number #5555, on the 15th of each month, along with the balance remaining. Any account user ID and passwords are also critical to include. Sources of debt to look for include:

  • Credit card accounts
  • Personal loans
  • Auto loans or leases
  • Mortgages
  • Home equity loans or home equity lines of credit (HELOC)

Note

Review the list of accounts at least once a year to see if there’s anything new to add or change.

Protecting Parental Digital Assets and Accounts

Digital assets and accounts a person can own are ever-growing and complicated. Rosas relayed the story of one client who couldn’t access treasured family photos in a deceased father’s iCloud account without the login information. “The only way Apple will allow someone to log in is with a court order,” she said. “So you could end up paying thousands of dollars in court fees if you don’t have a login and password.”

These digital belongings could include:

  • Websites and blogs
  • Photo albums
  • Social media accounts
  • Cloud storage accounts (iCloud)
  • Cryptocurrency
  • Non-fungible tokens (NFTs)
  • Online revenue streams, such as those through YouTube
  • Phone and laptop passwords
  • PayPal, Venmo, and other online financial services

If you don’t have passwords to these accounts or assets, you’ll have difficulty accessing them. State, federal, and data-privacy laws prohibit non-account users from accessing accounts, even after death.

Ask your parents to make a list of accounts they’d like you to be able to access after their deaths. Ensure you have each account's user ID, password, and two-factor verification information. Work with an experienced attorney to ensure you have the correct permissions to access the appropriate online accounts, as outlined in estate planning documents.

Plan To Head Off Account Exploitation

With your parents, familiarize yourself with signs of exploitation of older adults, which can put their financial security and accounts at risk. These may include:

  • Unexplained or unusual account activity such as increased cash withdrawals, credit card activity, the addition of authorized users without the account owner’s consent
  • Changes to credit cards, wills and other estate documents, property titles, and other documents or accounts without notification or authorization
  • Threats of harm or abandonment by a friend, caregiver, or family member, or denying access to account funds or contact with family
  • Signs that someone is trying to manipulate an older adult into co-signing for a loan or taking on more financial debt or responsibilities
  • Signs of identity theft and account breaches

Agree on a plan in advance with your parents. Who will be contacted if you notice these signs? Options could include a trusted family member, your state’s adult protective services, or the Eldercare Locator for the state where your parent resides.

Note

Help parents understand common scams targeting older adults that are going around. “Give parents examples of the tricks that scammers use, and make sure they give no financial or personal information over the internet or the phone—ever,” Catalano said. “If they make a mistake and do give out information, it is important for them to let you know immediately so you can intervene and help.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do I talk to my parents about estate planning?

Point out that estate planning isn’t just for the wealthy and helps ensure your parents’ goals and wishes are met after death. These goals might include passing on money to heirs or other loved ones, avoiding the public probate process, designing end-of-life and funeral plans, and designating those who will make financial and medical decisions in the case of incapacity or medical emergency.

How can elderly parents protect their assets?

Discuss what could go wrong with your adult children or a lawyer specializing in estate planning, and find out what steps can be taken to protect assets from financial elder abuse, scams, taxes, and other elements that could lead to asset losses.

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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Managing Someone Else’s Money: Considering a Financial Caregiver? Know Your Options.”

  2. Department of Justice. “Guardianship Overview.”

  3. National Institute on Aging. “Getting Your Affairs in Order.”

  4. Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants. “Comprehensive Financial Inventory.

  5. Fidelity. “Estate Planning for the Digital Age.”

  6. Eldercare Locator. “Protect Your Pocketbook: Tips To Avoid Financial Exploitation,” Pages 3-4.

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