How do I force an adult child to take responsibility for his/her parent?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My husband's sister and brother are both disabled and living with their aging mother. Both of his siblings have adult children who want nothing to do with their disabled parent. My husband and I are willing to assist with his mother but cannot handle the affairs of his siblings when their mother passes or when the time comes that she can no longer be responsible for her adult disabled children. How can we force the negligent children to step up and take over the care of their parent? The negligent children live in other states from their disabled parent/grandmother. The disabled adults cannot live in the house alone, neither one is responsible enough for that. My husband and I are approaching retirement and are unwilling to take over the responsibility for these two when they each have children of their own.

I have been taking care of my elderly parents for years and I have a disabled brother on my own side of the family. We need to know what to do when my husband's mother who is in her 80's cannot take care of herself and her two adult children any longer. What steps can we take to make this as uncomplicated as possible?

Expert Answer

Brenda Avadian, brings knowledge, hope, and joy to family caregivers for loved ones with Alzheimer's and dementia. She cared for her father with Alzheimer's and helps families one-on-one and in groups. She is the author of eight books, including the pioneering memoir "Where's my shoes?" My Father's Walk through Alzheimer's and the Finding the JOY in Alzheimer's series. She presents vivid, compelling, and funny keynotes to both professional and family caregiving audiences.

Caregiver to Many, you and your husband should not be responsible for his disabled sister or brother if you choose not to be. Likewise, you cannot force anyone to step up to face his or her familial responsibility.

However, to ensure that everyone is aware of the consequences of their in/actions, it's best to get an agreement in writing.

Who is responsible for your mother-in-law (MIL)? Will that person be reimbursed for expenses... time? Who will get the house when your MIL can no longer live in her home, independently? Oftentimes, when parents don't have an estate of significant value, family members don't forward, leaving the State to get involved. The disabled siblings will likely have to move into a group home or ?? Or the children may come forward to try to live in their grandma's home.

Instead of guessing what might happen, meet with an elder law attorney to draft an agreement with your MIL to ensure everyone's rights, responsibilities, and benefits are spelled out, so there are no issues after it's too late.

Beyond this, you cannot force anyone to step up to do what's right.