Question: My father is 92 years old. He owns two mortgage-free homes, one in which he lives, the other (with two apartments) he rents. (He invests the rental income.) Dad cannot forget the Depression era and his early struggles. He "cries poor" but also talks about clipping his bond coupons.

There are four of us children. (Our mother is dead.) Dad does help out financially if asked, but what we borrow must be paid back with interest. How he handles his assets is, of course, his business.

But his constant talk about what we will inherit is becoming tiresome, and I feel that so much of what he struggled for (if indeed he has that much) will go for taxes.

He is scared to death of parting with money because of fear of being penniless and having to go to an "old folks' home." Is what he is doing wise? What would you suggest if he would be open-minded enough to accept change?

Answer: I'm using a shortened version of your long letter because I think it demonstrates a problem that many people face with aging parents who matured in a different era.

I really have no way of knowing whether your father's financial actions are wise without having a great deal more information. But frankly, I don't think my opinion would make any difference to him anyway.

His attitude is fairly typical of many people who were adults in the 1930s. No one who did not live through the Depression can really understand what it was like. The circumstances are of course much different, but survivors of the Depression are much like Vietnam veterans in the sense that they carry hidden scars that affect attitudes and opinions for the rest of their lives.

In any case, I doubt very much whether anything you or I do anyone else says would really have an impact. Even if you were to convince your father to make some small change in his investments, he would worry constantly -- and probably talk constantly -- about it.

"Crying poor" is also typical, a habit of privacy in financial matters shared by many of his generation. And his frequent talk about what he will leave you is not for the purpose of impressing you, I suspect. It is really his way of constantly reassuring himself that he has managed for his children better than his parents managed for him. (And what parent doesn't want to do that?) In these latter years of his life, he needs to believe that his time on earth has not been for naught and that he will be remembered.

The idea of much of his estate going for taxes is not attractive, but, again, I suspect you will have to accept it. You should know, however, that the first $175,000 of an estate can pass to surviving children free of federal estate tax.

I can only suggest that you accept your father as he is with good grace, and with the realization that he isn't likely to change his habits this late in the game.

Q: I have an IRA, and I would like to know how the accrued interest will be taxed upon retirement. Will it be possible to withdraw a certain amount each year without tax? When a withdrawal is made, how do I determine what part is interest?

A: When you deposit qualifying funds in an IRA, you get to deduct the amount of the deposit from income on your tax return. Thus that part of your income that goes into the IRA is not taxed at that time.

So when you withdraw funds from the IRA, the entire amount must be reported as income subject to tax. The theory is that you defer the tax until you retire, when your income is lower and you are in a lower tax bracket.

(Whether you actually pay any tax at all depends on your age, number of dependents, total amount of income subject to tax, and what you have in the way of itemized deductions.)

Practically all IRAs permit periodic withdrawals from the account, but the entire amount is subject to tax when withdrawn. So there really isn't any need to determine how much of each withdrawal is interest and how much is a return of earlier deposits.