What Happens If You Refuse to Care for an Aging Parent?


Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

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There may be no more difficult or complicated decision to make than to refuse to take care of an aging parent. No matter what your rationale might be, chances are you may be judged by your parent, your siblings, friends, and anyone else involved. Your decision may be completely justifiable and understandable, but giving it some dedicated thought and time will help with the transition.

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As you make this decision, think about why and what might happen as a result of this action. Other caregivers have made this decision as well, but you also don’t want to feel alone after having made it. Compassion and listening are key, even if you have already made your decision.

Reasons Why You May Refuse to Take Care of an Aging Parent

There are many reasons why adult children refuse to take care of their aging parents, including lack of time, financial strain, pushback from your parent, emotional and physical effects on your health, and moving to a new location. These reasons are very personal and as varied as the individuals themselves. 

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Not enough time

Your work, family, and other obligations are too demanding. As the majority of caregivers are female, it can be very difficult to take time off of work or return to the workforce after having left.

You might have children or other relatives living with you that require your attention and focus. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all.

Financial strain

If you are a family caregiver and have had to work fewer hours or have left the workforce altogether to care for an aging parent,  the financial impact can be significant.

Add to that any costs associated with care, like the purchase of equipment or other items, and it may get to the point of becoming financially unsustainable.

Your parent refuses help

If you have a difficult and stressful relationship with your parent, it might be time to step away. Some parents refuse help despite your best efforts.

To those on the outside, it looks as though you aren’t helping when the fact is, your parent won’t accept your help. The frustration can be enormous. 

If your parent is being difficult, you can read our tips on how to deal with a demanding aging parent for some more guidance.

Your emotional and physical health are suffering

Caregiving can be stressful, even on good days. Your caregiver duties may have increased as a result of your parent’s deteriorating health, resulting in you being unable to safely perform some more detailed duties that are required.

Or, your physical health has started to deteriorate. Your emotional health may have suffered as well. The strain of caregiving can contribute to depression and anxiety which in turn, can affect your family and work life.

Moving to a new location

This happens more often than you might think. People get transferred or make a decision to move to an area where they have always wanted to live.

It is not unusual for family caregivers to be retirement age themselves and decide to move to a more temperate and/or affordable place. There may be no other family members to provide care when you leave.

If your parent is looking to move in with you, read our tips for moving in with aging parents.

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Are You Obligated to Take Care of Your Aging Parent?

This question is a complicated ethical and legal one. Many adult children feel it is their obligation to take care of their parents, regardless of the impact it has on their life.  Others take the approach that they have lives to lead too, and sacrificing their health and relationships is not worth it. 

Legal considerations

27 states including Puerto Rico have laws stating that children have a financial (filial) responsibility to take care of financial obligations if their parent is unable to. These laws differ depending on the state where you live and levels of enforcement vary.

If you are the only adult child living in proximity to your aging parent, you could be accused of neglect by another family member. The National Adult Protective Services Association defines neglect in several ways.

One definition of neglect is: “Abandonment: involves deserting the caregiving needs of an individual while neglecting to arrange sufficient care and support for the duration of the absence.” A sibling or any other individual could report you to Adult Protective Services. 

Along with neglect concerns, there is the question of your parent’s capacity. Incapacity is a legal term and has to be determined by the courts and supported by medical evidence. It means that your parent is unable to manage their healthcare or finances due to dementia, mental illness, or other medical concerns.

You may want to consider taking a clear look at whether your parent has the capacity to make good healthcare and financial decisions. If they don’t, you could be vulnerable to accusations of neglect.

Ethical considerations

Are you able to cope with feelings of shame and guilt? Perhaps you have made adequate arrangements for care if you are leaving, but still, feel as though you are abandoning your loved one. Consider talking with a professional about these feelings and get help with a plan moving forward.

Be prepared to deal with a family fallout. Let’s say you have been the primary caregiver and refuse to continue, or refuse to begin caregiving to start with. Your family may not be happy about this and might let you know. Your parent could feel abandon and unloved by your actions. This could cause an irreparable rift in your relationships.

What Happens If You Can’t Take Care of Your Older Parent?

Aside from the possible legal consequences of not being able to take care of someone, there are also possible solutions to consider.

You may also want to take the time to inform others about your decision before jumping off. It will give people a chance to absorb your decision and help with planning. 

Home care

Home care includes private caregivers through a home care agency. These caregivers can provide an array of services based on state guidelines. Unless your parent has long-term care insurance, there is a cost associated with this type of care. However, home care can allow someone to remain at home with much-needed support and companionship.

Home health care is time-limited medical care through a home health company. At the very least it can provide some support for the short term. If your parent has very limited resources and qualifies for Medicaid, home services could be a sustainable service under Medicaid. 

Private nursing might be an option if the home health benefit has expired and private caregivers are unable to perform certain medical tasks due to state regulations. This can be an expensive option but offers a level of medical support that can be reassuring. 

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Advance planning

If you have decided to stop caring for your aging parent, think about putting end-of-life care and advance planning documents in place.

If there isn’t another family member willing to assume this responsibility, consider a professional company. Perhaps you know an elder law attorney who can walk you through some options. 

Assisted living or other senior living options

If you or your parent can afford it, assisted living is an option. Much of the care that you currently give can probably be provided by most assisted living communities. In most cases, the higher the level of care, the higher the cost.

If your parent’s care needs are not significant, take a look at cohousing or other congregate housing settings. Keep in mind that support services will be limited in these settings.

If capacity is an issue, consider memory care communities that specialize in taking care of someone with dementia. 

Professional guardianship

The term guardianship refers to the court appointment of a person or company to manage a person’s healthcare and finances because they don’t have the capacity to do so on their own. If you suspect your parent needs a guardian and you are not willing to assume that duty, consider a professional company. Otherwise, you might be leaving your parent vulnerable to exploitation.

Guardianship is generally considered to be the last resort since individual rights are removed and assigned to someone else. The courts prefer a family guardian, so you may want to speak to other siblings who might be willing to step in and help.

State resources 

States vary widely in terms of what programs are available to help with eldercare. Funding and criteria differ from state to state, but it may be worth investigating any services to help support your parent.

Use Eldercare Locator to find programs in your area. These state programs usually have strict income requirements. 

Refusing to Take Care of an Aging Parent

Our population is aging at an unprecedented rate, which can affect everyone. Families find themselves caught between generations of caregiving and the pressure can be immense. 

Planning for replacement care can help ease your mind and that of your parents. They may not like the idea, but will probably adjust with time. If, after considering all of the options, you are firm in your decision, then be at peace. 


  1. “Filial Responsibility Laws by State 2020.” World Population Review. worldpopulationreview.com/states/filial-responsibility-laws-by-state/
  2. Fifield, Kathleen. “The Trickle-down Affect of Caregiving on Women.”AARP Family Caregiving Basics. 29 November 2018. www.aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2018/women-caregiving-trickle-down-effect.html 
  3. “What is Neglect?” National Adult Protective Services Association. www.napsa-now.org/get-informed/what-is-neglect/
  4. “Eldercare Locator.” The U.S. Administration on Aging. eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Index.aspx 

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