2. Talk to your parents. Sounds easy enough, but your parents come from a generation that considers financial matters private. Sharon Burns, CPA, and author of "How to Care for Your Parents' Money While Caring for Your Parents," says these are rough waters to navigate.
"Take advantage of 'reachable' moments," says Burns. "If a friend's mom has died, mention this to your parent and say, 'Maybe we should talk about this.' Start generally, and don't immediately suggest taking over day-to-day finances."
Don't wait for a crisis to get things moving.
"At some point in everybody's life, your ability to deal with complex financial issues is going to diminish. It's not a question of if, it's a question of when," says Mark La Spisa, Certified Financial Planner and president of Vermillion Financial Advisors in South Barrington, Ill.
3. Work with your siblings. If you're an only child, then the majority of responsibilities for helping your parents belong to you. If you have one or more siblings, plan a get-together and decide who's going to manage the finances.
Burns says it's vital that the person responsible for finances keeps everyone informed. She recommends sending an annual report to family members that shows the current financial picture, how the money has been spent and so on. "Even if a sibling appears disinterested or distant, keep that sibling in the loop," says Burns.
4. Look at the numbers. Make a list of your parents' income sources, including investment income. If your mom's meeting her monthly bills and still able to save a few bucks, that's great. If she's having a hard time making ends meet now, imagine how difficult it will be when she's experiencing a health crisis. Consider this a reality check.
5. Stretch out the money. If your dad has limited savings and modest income sources, help him find ways to make the money last as long as possible. Review his budget with him and see if there are any unnecessary expenses. Research your options and you might be amazed at some of the services he might qualify for. Visit the U.S. Administration on Aging's Web site for resources and helpful links. And don't overlook resources available in your state.
"Calling your state's Department of Aging is a good first step," says La Spisa. "And almost every community has a senior organization with an array of programs, from Meals on Wheels to visiting nurses to handymen who'll come over and fix things."