Can I get legal visitation rights to see my aunt?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My aunt, by marriage, reared my sister and me and did not adopt us. Since my uncle's passing my sister will not allow me or my aunt's family to visit. She does whatever she can to block visitation by anyone but her husband's family. They have moved into my aunt's home and my aunt is financially well off. My sister has authority to make medical decisions because my aunt is 94 years old. Can we legally get visitation rights? My aunt's family is really heartbroken.

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

As you know best, you are in a sad and frustrating situation"”and the truth is, it may not have a technically "legal" solution.

Two main areas of concern here. First, the easy one. You mention that your sister has authority to make medical decisions for your aunt because your aunt is 94 years old. The legal reality is that without some legal authorization such as a durable power of attorney appointing your sister as agent and without some evidence that your aunt is unable to act for herself, your sister lacks authority to act for her. If you are concerned that your sister is making decisions that are not in your aunt's best interests, then you might opt to contest what's happening"”most likely by contacting the local office of Adult Protective Services.

But that assumes a lot"”most importantly, that you have good evidence that your aunt "˜s care is substandard. And since you have been banned from seeing her, you may not have access to that information.

That underscores the second, bigger and more stinging problem you face: being part of the family that's banned from seeing your aunt. While it's not clear why your sister came to this decision, unless you and your aunt's other banned family members have been clearly abusive in the past, most authorities would concur that your sister's actions are counterproductive"”both for family unity and importantly, for your aunt's health and well-being. Visits with loving and caring others are important for people of any and every age, but especially for older people, who may be housebound or have limited movement and opportunity to get out and about.

I'm assuming that you and your aunt's family members have attempted to appeal to your sister about being let in the door, and that she has remained steadfast in refusing visits. It may then be time to enlist the help of an outsider to help her see reason or to help arrange for some type of visitation that would meet everyone's needs. Contact the nearest office of the Area Agency on Aging, which you can find through the national group at Many such groups provide advocates for the elderly, or can recommend local resources that provide them, who may be willing and able to intervene.

Another option might be to consult with a mediator"”an impartial third person who can help work out a solution amenable to all concerned. Look for someone trained and experiences in handling family conflicts. Some local community boards or advocacy groups can provide such individuals free or for a low cost. If not, check local telephone book or Internet listings to get leads.

Don't delay. Since your aunt is 94, you may have a limited time to right this wrong.