Here are some tips to make that discussion easier:
1. Look for a subtle invitation. "Sometimes parents will signal when they want to have 'The Talk,' " wrote Jeff D. Opdyke in his book, "Protecting Your Parents' Money." The parent may, for example, start complaining about stock market losses, a large medical bill or the cost of replacing a car. "Such comments might well be a parent's way of trying to draw you into a conversation they've wanted to have with you for a while."
2. Don't wait too long. If your parents don't give you a signal, you'll have to initiate the conversation, and the sooner the better. "If you wait until one of your parents develops a serious illness, it will be much more difficult to have this kind of conversation," according to "Communication with Your Parents about Finances," a 2009 University of California publication.
3. Consider what you want to discuss first. Key questions include: Are your parents scraping by, or do they have adequate savings? Do each of your parents have a will, and do you know where it is? How adequate is their health insurance? "Don't expect to cover all the issues in one conversation," warned the UC publication.
4. Don't blame, criticize or condescend. If you come on too forcefully, your parents may think you're just after their money and will tune you out. "The worst action you can take is to get mad, raise your voice, yell or threaten to take control of your parent's finances anyway or to seek legal advice in helping you take control," Opdyke said.
5. Be direct. Tell your parents that while you don't need to know every detail, you do need to understand their finances well enough to be able to help them in case their health fails, or another emergency occurs. "They're much more likely to respect your approach because it clearly leaves them in control of the process and tells them you're not out for selfish gains," Opdyke said.