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Friday, February 25, 2011

Can I force my aging parents to leave their home?

The transition from the family home to an alternative living arrangement is not always a pleasant one for aging individuals. Often the change is brought about not by a real desire to move, but by physical and mental impairments that may accompany aging.

When a parent doesn't want to move, it can be a delicate subject. If the aging parent's children see that the parent is struggling with mobility or health or loneliness, they may want to suggest that the parent live in a retirement community or with one of the kids, or if there are daily living issues perhaps in an assisted living facility. Ideally, the parent will agree that the change is necessary and would be beneficial, and will participate fully in finding the right place to live.

But what if the parent doesn't agree? I've certainly run across a few seniors in my practice who dig in their heels and refuse to move, consequences be damned. Depending on the particulars of the situation, it may be possible to find caregivers who will come in to the parent's home to give the needed assistance, but even that may not be enough.

This leaves families at an impasse. The kids know that their parent isn't safe, or is slowly wasting away from lack of exercise and interaction. They are absolutely positive that the parent's life would be vastly improved by a change of address. The parent becomes defensive and upset when the topic is raised. Now what?

This is where the kids begin to wonder if they may have to force the parent to move, for the parent's own good.

Under normal circumstances, nobody can be forced to move out of a house they own and live in without bothering anyone else. A private citizen doesn't lose that right just because he or she is old. Therefore, if you can't persuade your parent to move willingly, you will need some legal authority to make decisions for them before you can take action to make them move against their will.

You can make decisions about where your parent lives if you are appointed by the parent under a Personal Directive (also known as Health Care Directive, Advance Directive, Health Care Proxy, etc). Being named isn't enough; you are also going to have to have your parent declared incompetent by at least one doctor to bring the directive into effect. Each document states what it takes to spring it into effect.

If your parent has not signed a Personal Directive, you may have to apply to the court to become your parent's guardian. This procedure also hinges on the finding of incompetence by a doctor.

For the record, I am not at all in favour of aging parents being forced to do things because their children want them to. However, I know that there are some seniors out there who truly are at terrible physical risk because they refuse to give up their homes, particularly where there isn't much money to pay for in-home caregivers. Hopefully a persistent son or daughter can help the stubborn parent see the advantages of moving.

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