2024 Financially Assisting Aging Parents Report

A new NerdWallet survey finds that more than a third of Americans (36%) think their parents will need financial assistance as they age, but not everyone can afford to help.
Erin El Issa
By Erin El Issa 
Published
Edited by Holly Carey

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Saving for retirement can be a daunting task, depending on your age and money goals. And many Americans have to think not only about themselves but also potentially their parents’ financial futures.

According to a new NerdWallet survey, over a third of Americans (36%) say they think their parents will need financial assistance as they age. And more than half of Americans (55%) either currently or plan to assist their parents financially, whether that means paying for things, managing their money or both.

The survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, conducted online in February 2024 by The Harris Poll, asked Americans about their parents’ financial needs and whether they plan to assist them in the future if they’re able to do so. We also asked Americans about their estate plans or lack thereof.

Key findings

  • Top ways Americans are helping parents include food and housing. Of Americans who say they’re currently assisting their parents financially, 60% say they’re paying for food, 48% are paying for other necessities and 41% are paying for housing costs.

  • Many who don’t plan to assist parents with their money can’t. The survey found that of Americans who say they don’t plan to financially assist their parents, 37% say it’s because they don’t have the financial means to do so.

  • Some are worried about their parents’ money. Around 1 in 7 Americans (14%) are stressed about their parents’ financial situation. This is especially true for 24% of Generation Z (ages 18-27) and 19% of millennials (ages 28-43). 

  • Most Americans don’t have an estate plan. Just 28% of Americans have an estate plan, and only 40% of baby boomers (ages 60-78) currently have an estate plan.

“When budgeting for current or future needs, sometimes people don’t consider the cost of aging parents,” says Elizabeth Ayoola, personal finance writer at NerdWallet. “Getting clear about the financial implications of caring for aging parents can help both kids and their parents better financially prepare.”

55% of Americans are helping parents financially or plan to do so

Around 1 in 7 Americans (14%) currently assist their parents financially and another 41% plan to do so if their parents need it, according to the survey. More than 1 in 5 millennials (22%) — many of whom are likely the children of baby boomers, who may be at or close to retirement age — are currently assisting their parents financially.

Of Americans currently assisting their parents financially, some of the top things they’re helping out with are paying for food (60%), paying for other necessities (48%), paying for housing costs (41%) and managing their money (44%).

For those who aren’t currently financially assisting their parents, but plan to do so if they need it, their planned contributions closely align with those who are currently providing this assistance.

Some may be assisting out of a sense of responsibility, which might be cultural or familial. According to the survey, 1 in 10 Americans (10%) say their parents expect them to help pay for things. Likewise, 10% of Americans say they expect to need their own children’s help financially in retirement.

Providing financial help to parents may also be more difficult for those raising children of their own; 20% of parents of children under 18 say they’re currently paying for some expenses for their parents or their partner’s parents while providing for their own children. This may cause some to feel an immense amount of pressure — internal or external — to give themselves, their parents and their children a fighting chance financially.

No. 1 reason for not helping parents is not being able to

While many Americans would love to help their parents out with money, it’s not an option for everyone. Of the 15% of Americans who say they don’t plan on assisting their parents financially if they need it, nearly 2 in 5 (37%) say it’s because they don’t have the means to do so.

The survey found that 11% of Americans say they want to help their parents pay for expenses but don’t think they’ll be able to. It can be challenging enough to support yourself, and there’s not always room to help others out, at least with money. If your parents’ finances aren’t in great shape, you may be stressed about it, whether or not you can afford to assist.

Financial stress may be related to uncertainty

Some Americans — particularly younger Americans — are worried about their parents’ money. According to the survey, 14% report being stressed about their parents’ financial situation, including 24% of Gen Zers and 19% of millennials. For some, this may be due to a knowledge of their parents’ lackluster finances, but the stress could also come from not knowing what’s going on with their parents’ money.

The survey found that just one-quarter of Americans (25%) have discussed their parents’ end-of-life wishes and only one-fifth (20%) have discussed their parents’ estate plan. Some may not have living parents to have these discussions with. But for others, the reason may be because there aren’t plans in place.

Only 28% of Americans have an estate plan

An estate plan tells your loved ones — and the state you reside in — who will receive your assets when you die. These assets might include your savings and investments, property and other personal possessions. A risk of not creating an estate plan is that your state may decide how your assets are divided, and there will likely be a delay in the release of those assets as they go through probate court.

So it’s troubling that less than 3 in 10 Americans (28%) say they currently have an estate plan, according to the survey. Just 2 in 5 baby boomers (40%) — who are in their 60s and 70s — and only 28% of Gen Xers (ages 44-59) have an estate plan in place. The biggest reason for not having one? Nearly a third of Americans without an estate plan (32%) say they plan to create one, but they just haven’t gotten around to it.

Eleven percent of Americans without an estate plan say the reason why is they don’t like thinking about estate planning. Whether this is due to a fear of facing their own mortality or simply an aversion to so much paperwork, it’s important for most people to create an estate plan.

How to map your — and your parents’ — financial future

Talk to your parents about the hard stuff if you haven’t yet

Having a conversation with your parents about aging and money may not sound like a good time, and to be honest, it probably won’t be. But just because the conversation is difficult doesn’t mean it should be avoided. It’s important to understand your parents’ financial situation, especially if you’re expecting to assist them. Putting off the conversation may feel more comfortable now, but could put you in a bad position later.

Let’s say you don’t ask your parents about their finances now and instead wait until they need help from you. If they need more support than you were expecting, it could mean you either can’t help or have to put yourself in financial straits to do so. Having the conversation now could allow you to better help them financially later, or at least communicate your ability or inability to do so.

So what do you need to talk about? It’s a good idea to know whether your parents have long-term care insurance and life insurance, what their assets and debts are, if they have an estate plan and what they expect to need from you and other loved ones in the future. This doesn’t mean you have to provide what they ask you for financially, but it’s a good idea to be on the same page with expectations.

“Having money conversations with your parents can be awkward and uncomfortable,” Ayoola says. “Sometimes cultural norms, shame and a lack of knowledge hinder people from having these discussions. However, talking about your parents’ finances can help eliminate assumptions and bring clarity about their financial standing and how you might support them in the future.”

One way to open up the conversation is sharing your estate plan with your parents and what role they might play if they survived you. But first, you need to have an estate plan.

Create an estate plan

If you’re part of the 72% of Americans who don’t have an estate plan, it's a good idea to create one. Especially if you have children or other loved ones who depend on you financially, and/or if you own assets, you’ll want to set one up.

According to the survey, 16% of Americans who don’t have an estate plan say it’s because they aren’t sure if they need one, including 1 in 5 parents of minor children (20%). While an estate plan spells out who gets your assets after you die, it also indicates who you want as a guardian for your children. If you don’t designate a guardian, your children might end up with a family member who doesn’t share your parenting values.

“Some people have the misconception that if they aren’t wealthy, they don’t need an estate plan,” Ayoola says. “Anybody who has children or owns assets that are valuable to them — be it an heirloom passed down by a great grandma, vinyl collection or even bank accounts — should consider creating an estate plan. Estate plans can also help establish what happens to digital assets like social media accounts, email accounts or smartphones. Putting one in place ensures your assets are in the right hands when you’re no longer here.”

Prepare yourself for the future as best as you can

Once you have an estate plan and you’ve talked to your parents about their financial needs, you can start making plans for the future. If you plan to assist your parents with money, consider how you’ll do that. Can you begin saving now to help them pay for expenses? Do you need to set boundaries with them about how much you’re willing and able to pitch in? Start thinking about what this looks like and aim to put yourself in a position financially where you can help, if you want to do so.

“People may feel pressured into helping their parents financially due to expectations or because they want to,” Ayoola says. “While financially supporting your parents is a noble thing to do, remember you’re also aging and need financial security. Make sure you’re prioritizing your financial needs by establishing an emergency fund and contributing to retirement accounts. Then you can consider using any surplus funds you have to support your aging parents.”

Methodology

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from Feb. 27-29, 2024, among 2,089 adults ages 18 and older. The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within +/- 2.5 percentage points using a 95% confidence level. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact [email protected].

Disclaimer

NerdWallet disclaims, expressly and impliedly, all warranties of any kind, including those of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose or whether the article’s information is accurate, reliable or free of errors. Use or reliance on this information is at your own risk, and its completeness and accuracy are not guaranteed. The contents in this article should not be relied upon or associated with the future performance of NerdWallet or any of its affiliates or subsidiaries. Statements that are not historical facts are forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties as indicated by words such as “believes,” “expects,” “estimates,” “may,” “will,” “should” or “anticipates” or similar expressions. These forward-looking statements may materially differ from NerdWallet’s presentation of information to analysts and its actual operational and financial results.

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