Menu Close

Can I Refuse To Care For My Elderly Parent?

Share This Article

It is very common for parents to want their adult children to care for them in their old age. It’s a comforting thought.

However, it’s not always possible and it can often become extremely difficult in many ways for any one of the children to become a primary caregiver for the older adults in their life.

As a result, some adult children want to know if they can make their own decisions about refusing to care for their older parents.

The answer is complicated but generally speaking, yes, you can certainly refuse to care for your elderly parent. Beyond the filial responsibility laws in some states, there are no “laws” that say that an adult child is obligated to care for their aging mother or father.

But, that does not mean that it will be an easy decision. Many emotions will be involved, including guilt, which is very normal.

And it may not even really be that you “refuse” to care for your aging parent, it may actually be that you simply are not able to for any variety of reasons such as:

  • You live far away
  • You are dealing with your own health problems or caring for someone in your own family
  • Your relationship with your parent is poor
  • You may be working 60 hours a week or more
  • Your parent has a severe cognitive decline
  • Your parent was abusive in some way
  • Your concerned your mental health may be affected
  • They require more medical care than you can provide
  • You don’t have the financial means to care for them

These and many other factors in your life can create a difficult situation and may make it overwhelming for you to take on the task of caring for your aging parent.

One consequence is that children who are caring for an elderly parent often need to help themselves with responsibilities outside their own homes.

In these instances, if the care of elderly parents will be in their home or your home then you will want to ask for help from close friends or family members or hire a professional caregiver.

Having help from others who can assist you with caring for this elderly person can make your life (and your parents’ lives) much easier and safer.

Do I Really Want To Care For My Elderly Parents?

No one wants to think about their parent’s aging process. The reality is, even if you are healthy and young, your parents will eventually grow old too.

Aging usually brings changes in our lives which often lead us down separate paths.

Sometimes these decisions evoke conflict from loved ones around them – especially when those choices involve taking on new responsibilities like eldercare.

We are supposed to want to take care of our parents or aging relatives. If we don’t, we usually feel guilty and bad. We may not discuss these complicated emotions for fear of being branded “selfish” or “uncaring.” But it is perfectly normal to have mixed feelings even when you adore your parent or spouse.

Deciding whether or not you even want to take on the role of caring for your parent or other older people in your life, boils down to a decision that only you can make.

It could be that you have a tumultuous relationship with your parent or maybe they were abusive to you.

There could be several reasons as to why you may decide that you simply can’t go back into that type of situation again.

You can read more about abusive elderly parents here.

The best course of action, in my opinion, is to speak to a social worker or geriatric care manager about your specific situation for advice on your options.

You may be able to get information on how to get home help, what programs are available for assistance in your area, etc.

I would also recommend speaking to an elder law attorney as well for some professional legal advice.

It’s extremely important to ensure that you have all the legal paperwork prepared before your aging parent becomes cognitively impaired or passes away.

Family Responsibilities In Caring For The Elderly

As a result of the rise in elderly people living longer, many states have passed laws requiring that adult children provide for their parents’ basic care and needs.

These are known as Filial Responsibility Laws.

Can family members be held liable for allowing an elderly parent to live alone?

More than half of the U S has such filial responsibility legislation with differences between individual states on how much is expected from each child financially.

You don’t need to feel affection or warmth toward your aging parents, but ultimately it’s a responsibility we take on from the societal and arguably ethical standpoint.

From this perspective then, people have an innate responsibility of helping their loved ones in later stages with some caregiving difficulties as well.

The good news is that there are plenty of resources available today for caregivers that can bring you some peace of mind.

  • Support groups (in-person and online)
  • Sources such as where you can hire some help
  • Local community social services programs

Caregiving can be a hard and demanding job, but it doesn’t have to take over your life.

When things become too much for you or when help is needed in order to continue caring properly then asking for help isn’t just acceptable – it’s necessary!

Consider looking for home care services for your sanity and your parent’s safety.

Why Would Someone Refuse to Care for an Elderly Parent?

I’ve worked in many nursing homes and assisted living facilities as an Occupational Therapist and I spoke with many family members who told me they were upset that they were not able to care for their loved ones at home.

But I also spoke with family members who simply refused to take on the role of caregiving and opted for moving their elderly mother or father into a nursing home or assisted living facility.

We have to recognize that these decisions are theirs to make and that many different factors likely went into making the final decision.

It’s tough to say no when you’re asked to take care of an elderly parent. But the truth is that not everyone is capable of handling the responsibility.

In other words, it’s not always a good idea that an adult child takes care of an aging parent. Not everyone can function in caregiving roles. Sometimes, the care of your elderly parents is best handled by healthcare providers.

Oftentimes, the relationship between the parent and the child(ren) plays a large role in the choices that they make when deciding whether or not to care for their elder parent.

Is It Illegal To Not Take Care Of Your Parents?

Filial responsibility laws have been around for quite some time in the United States. These laws dictate that adult children must provide support (financial support) to their impoverished parents or other relatives.

Typically, these laws obligate adult children (or depending on the state, other family members) to pay for their indigent parents’/relatives’ food, clothing, shelter and medical needs. Should the children fail to provide adequately, they allow nursing homes and government agencies to bring legal action to recover the cost of caring for the parents. Adult children can even go to jail in some states if they fail to provide filial support.

There are currently 29 states plus Puerto Rico that have Filial responsibility laws.

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

How to put someone in a nursing home with no money?

What To Do When You Can’t Take Care Of Your Parents

Admitting that you need help is the first step in taking care of your parent. It’s okay if it sounds tough or scary at times, but just remember they are not getting any younger!

When you’ve come to terms with the reality that your parent needs a caregiver, the next step then is how do you break this news to them?

I think we can all agree on one thing: there will probably always remain some level of sadness or guilt after realizing something like this.

It’s never easy to know what to do when your parent needs more care. If you are struggling in providing a quality of life for them, don’t beat yourself up!

Even the most experienced family caregiver eventually has a hard time caring well and can use some assistance from professionals who have experience with this type of situation like yours.

Seek assistance with this decision from a geriatric care manager.

What Do You Do If You Have An Elderly Parent With No Money?

Taking care of parents who are broke adds an extra layer of problems to the whole situation. You may feel overwhelmed if this is your circumstance but there are some things you can do.

Although these will involve some very difficult decisions, the bottom line is there are fewer and fewer options available when there is a lack of funds.

But let’s take a look at some things that you can do to help the situation.

Here are some tips on what you can do:

  • Try to have a serious conversation with your parent(s) about their situation. You may want to bring in the help of someone who has knowledge of how finances work such as a financial planner or lawyer if needed, so they understand better what you are going through and why this decision is important for both parties involved
  • It’s important to set up a family meeting. Sit down and discuss the situation with your siblings before taking any action. You can include your parents, but that will depend on their level of cognitive ability as well as their willingness in working together with you.
  • Gather all of the documents you have to show how much money may already be saved in savings accounts, investments such as stocks, and mutual funds. You also need an accurate account of your parents’ assets along with any debts they owe. Also detail any steady income such as pension funds, annuities, social security, etc.
  • Review the options available to you and your family. For example, would downsizing to a smaller home be beneficial? Maybe renting an apartment is a solution. What items can be sold to put more money in the bank?
  • If it’s possible for your senior parents to work full-time or part-time – that’s an option as well to consider.
  • Can family members pitch in? Do they have possessions that they can sell to raise funds? Or perhaps family members can pitch in to help with household chores, running errands, walking the dog, etc.

Read more about how you can help your parents if they are broke here.


Like anyone of us, your older parents want to have a sense of control over their lives – that’s perfectly understandable. And this is why the refusal of help is so very common among seniors.

But, not every adult grows older in good health and some end up requiring much more health care than they ever anticipated.

These, and many other factors come into play for adult children who find themselves in the position of possibly having to care for their elderly parents. What options do THEY have in this situation?

Although legally, there are no laws that require adult children to physically care for their parents, ethically it is the right thing to do in most situations.

To get help, I recommend again speaking to an elder law attorney, a social worker and/or a geriatric care manager. These professionals can help you make the best decision for yourself, your family, and your aging parents.

Untitled Document
Skip to content Clicky