Choosing Not to Be Your Parents’ Caregiver

Choosing Not to Be Your Parents’ Caregiver

Your parents sacrificed a lot to raise you, so why shouldn’t you be willing to do the same in their aging years? No one wants to feel ungrateful or bothered by the idea of taking care of an aging parent. We want to do what we can to make our parents’ last few years the best years of their lives.

But in reality, the daily grind and your own family already put such a strain on life that taking in elderly parents could break you.

No one wants to think about their loved ones aging. Unfortunately, with the 65+ population in the United States steadily growing, this is the reality staring down quite a few adult children. You aren’t alone in thinking that a caregiver role isn’t for you; in fact, it’s becoming increasingly more common to ask yourself if you even want to care for your elderly parents.

Why Some Adult Children are Forgoing the Caregiver Role for Their Elderly Parents

There are a number of reasons why someone may not become an at-home caregiver for older adults, including:

  • They do not have the time or money to care for their relatives,
  • They physically cannot be a caregiver,
  • They live in a different location than their loved ones do,
  • They cannot ensure their loved ones’ safety the way a skilled nursing facility can, or
  • Their relatives require specialized end-of-life care.

Of course, there are plenty of other perfectly valid reasons why someone may not want to become a caregiver—including the fact that they may just not want to be a primary caregiver.

And that’s okay!

It’s okay to forgo caregiving responsibilities if you know it would strain the relationship between you and your aging loved ones.

It’s okay to forgo caregiving if you think it would strain your mental or physical health.

It’s okay to forgo caregiving if you don’t have the resources.

Whatever the reason you forgo to be a caregiver, it’s justified (so long as you ensure your aging relatives are receiving the care they need from someone else who is qualified).

Can You Choose Not to Care for Your Elderly Parents?

In most cases: Yes, you can absolutely choose to not be the primary caregiver for your elderly parents.

There are exceptions to this statement, however.

For starters, you may be legally obligated to ensure that your elderly parents are taken care of. That doesn’t mean you have to be their primary caregiver or even have to pay for their caregiving, just that you need to make sure they’re accessing eldercare resources (i.e., you’re not committing elder neglect or another form of elder abuse, nor are any hired caregivers).

Other times, you may be legally obligated to pay for your parents’ eldercare under filial responsibility laws.

What are Filial Responsibility Laws and Does Your State Have Them?

Filial responsibility laws are laws that may obligate you to care for your elderly parent, specifically in the form of paying for their expenses. Currently, 27 states (plus Puerto Rico) have such laws. These states are:

  1. Alaska
  2. Arkansas
  3. California
  4. Connecticut
  5. Delaware
  6. Georgia
  7. Indiana
  8. Iowa
  9. Kentucky
  10. Louisiana
  11. Massachusetts
  12. Mississippi
  13. Montana
  14. Nevada
  15. New Jersey
  16. North Carolina
  17. North Dakota
  18. Ohio
  19. Oregon
  20. Pennsylvania
  21. Rhode Island
  22. South Dakota
  23. Tennessee
  24. Utah
  25. Vermont
  26. Virginia
  27. West Virginia

That said, not all of these states consistently enforce these laws. In many cases, specific conditions must be met before action is taken against adult children. According to, the following conditions would simultaneously have to be met for such a scenario:

  • “The parent received care in a state that has a filial responsibility law.
  • The parent did not qualify for Medicaid when receiving care.
  • The parent does not have the money to pay the bill.
  • The child has the money to pay the bill.
  • The caregiver chooses to sue the child.”

Am I obligated to take care of my parents?

As stated above, you usually are not obligated to care for elderly relatives, although exceptions sometimes apply. These exceptions can include the following.

Responsible Party

When your parents enter a senior care facility (e.g., a nursing home), you may end up signing some paperwork yourself. If you sign yourself as a responsible party, you may be contractually obligated to cover the costs of your parents’ care if they are unable to do so themselves and you don’t sign up for Medicaid on your parents’ behalf.

That is why it’s always important to read the fine print before you sign any legal documents when moving someone into a senior living community.

Estate Recovery

In some cases, Medicaid may file for estate recovery, which means that Medicaid will request that some of their costs be reimbursed by a deceased relative’s estate. Such actions would not drain your wallet directly, but they could reduce the amount of inheritance you receive from a loved one’s estate. If leaving an inheritance is important to your aging relatives, let them know how important it is for them to include estate planning in their retirement plans, so that they can protect their assets.

Filial Responsibility

If you live in a state where filial responsibility laws apply, you may be required to pay some or all of the costs of your parents’ eldercare.

Other Common Questions

Making the decision to become your elderly relatives’ caregiver isn’t one to take lightly. Other questions people ask themselves before taking on this responsibility include the following.

How do you deal with a stubborn elderly parent?

Your aging loved one can become irritable and stubborn in their old age, making it hard for elderly parents to accept help. It’s important to keep this fact in mind when dealing with aging relatives and not to take their behavior personally. If their behavior overwhelms you, you have a few options available, including respite care and residential care.

Respite Care

Respite care is what the name implies. That is, it is a program or service that grants caregivers a break from their responsibilities. Respite care can mean:

  • You and your siblings alternate when you care for aging parents,
  • Your loved ones enter an assisted living facility for a short period of time while you recover,
  • You hire a qualified caregiver to assume your responsibilities for a period of time, or
  • You enroll your elderly relatives in an adult day care.

Of course, these options aren’t always available for everyone. An only child, for example, will have no siblings to help them care for their parents. Additionally, hiring someone to care for parents—even a short period of time—can be costly.

Residential Care

If your elderly parents’ behavior puts themselves at risk or their health issues become severe, it’s time to consider if it would be best for everyone involved if they entered a long-term care facility. For example, if your old mother has an advanced form of Alzheimer’s or another kind of dementia, moving her to a specialized memory care location is the best way to ensure she is getting the level of care she needs.

Can Caregiving Kill You? The Effects of Caregiving on Your Health

Caregiving is extremely taxing on your physical and mental health as well as your resources, such as time and money. In fact, unpaid caregiving is associated with higher risk of mental health problems, compromised immunity, and even an elevated risk of early death, according to the CDC.

As you consider who will take care of your parents, don’t neglect to consider that you need to take care of you as well.

Caregiver stress is real, and experiencing it doesn’t make you weak or a bad person. It simply means you’re human. There is a reason being a senior caregiver is a viable salaried, full-time job: it’s demanding. As such, it’s important to not just consider the personal care needs of your mom and dad, but also your own health.

Ways to combat caregiver burnout include:

  • Practicing self-care in your downtime,
  • Being sure to set boundaries with your parents on what you will and will not do,
  • Finding a support group of other family caregivers, and
  • Asking a best friend or other family members, like an in-law, to help out for a day or two.

When caregiving responsibilities affect your mental and physical health or become financially unsustainable for you, it’s time to consider either professional respite care or moving your loved ones into a residential care community.

Blue graphic detailing ways to beat caregiving burnout

What Happens If Neither You Nor Your Parents Can Afford a Nursing Home?

If your parents need eldercare but neither they nor you can afford it, you may need to sign them up for Medicaid. In other cases, they may become wards of the state. When this happens, the state will effectively become their guardians and make decisions regarding their well-being, such as where they receive care.

Final Thoughts

Deciding on the best senior care option for your aging loved ones can be a stressful process. What’s important to remember is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to eldercare. For some adult children, becoming primary caregivers is the best option. For other families, this may not be the case—and that’s okay. While it’s important that your elderly relatives receive the care they need, you also need to keep your physical and mental health in mind.

Sometimes that means your elderly parents need to move into a specialized senior care community so that they can receive the care they need while you are able to attend to your own needs. You can check our directory to discover senior care communities across the country that will give your loved one the care they need with the respect they deserve.