5. Inquire sensitively about current and potential problems
If you notice that Mom has slowed down a lot since you last saw her, or that your elderly father has trouble buttoning his jacket, don't just brush off those issues as part of the aging process. While it's true that we all change physically as we get older, you should also be sensitive to the ways in which physical changes — especially deteriorating physical abilities — can affect your relatives financially.
For instance, does Mom or Dad require in-house help? Are they able to perform daily functions, such as getting dressed, driving or feeding themselves?
You can ask a relative point-blank if he or she is having any difficulties. But just do so with compassion and sensitivity. A nonthreatening and caring approach is likely to be much better received than an offhand comment or a joke about "taking away Dad's car keys."
One other way to more discreetly ascertain whether a relative might need financial help is to engage him or her in a conversation about their current finances. Specifically, you can ask about current assets and income, current debts and spending, and things like their plans for covering medical and caregiving costs.
Some people may shy away from discussing their private financial details. But if a relative does open up and expresses apprehension or anxiety about any of these areas, it's likely a sign that he or she is struggling financially or is at least worried about the potential impact of these money matters. If so, it might make sense to suggest meeting with a financial planner.
The good news is that if you handle things correctly, having a conversation about finances during the holidays can increase family communication, solidify family bonds and give everyone involved greater peace of mind.
This story was originally published November 2013.
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