Seniors generally can’t be forced to move into a nursing home against their will. Older adults who are still legally independent and not under the guardianship of another person can make their own decisions about living arrangements, though under very specific circumstances a court can appoint another person as the medical decision-maker to act on the senior’s behalf.

Your Rights as an Independent Adult

As long as a person hasn’t been convicted of a crime or found by a court to be unable to care for themselves, they’re free to live where they want and make decisions for themselves about their care. Family members who haven’t been appointed as legal guardians of a senior don’t have the power to make them move into any care arrangement against their will. While people in your family are free to offer advice and may strenuously urge you to transfer to a residential care facility, their wishes don’t have the power of the law, and you can choose not to leave your home if you don’t want to.

When Can a Person Be Forced Into a Nursing Home?

The freedom independent seniors enjoy has an exception to it. If a family member successfully petitions a court to award guardianship to them, that person effectively gains the authority to make decisions about living arrangements for the senior under their care. This authority is similar to the role a parent plays in choosing a school or making medical decisions for their child. A court can effectively award “custody” over an older adult to a family member who will act in the perceived best interests of the senior. Before a senior’s independence can be restricted in this way, they must be given due process by the court and have a chance to argue that they don’t need a guardian.

Why Would a Guardian Be Appointed?

The process of appointing another adult as a guardian for a senior is long and involved, and even when it’s complete, the guardian’s power to make decisions isn’t absolute. While the process varies somewhat from state to state, a person seeking guardianship generally has to show that their senior loved one is unable to make rational decisions on their own behalf, remaining in their own home presents some type of danger and the best solution is to appoint the relative to make important decisions on behalf of the senior. Only after a court hears the arguments and agrees can a decision about living arrangements be made without the informed consent of the senior.

This process isn’t easy to work through, and it’s most often done when a senior has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia and is no longer able to control their own care. When guardianship is granted, the family member or other party appointed as a decision-maker is required to act in the interests of the senior they’re looking after, subject to the review of the family court.