Is my husband responsible if his parents cause injury or death while driving impaired?

4 answers | Last updated: Oct 05, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My husband and his sister have dual p.o.a. over their father recently diagnosed with alzhiemers and both parents have significant mental and physical impairments and were recently placed in a "non-locked assisted living facility. My husband & my sister -in-law have left their parents with access to the parents vehicle and at the moment and are allowing their parents to drive themselves. My husband argues that he is not legally liable if his parents cause injury or death while driving impaired because my husband is not the owner of the vehicle. Is this true or can my family be held financially responsible?

Expert Answers

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.

The basic answer depends on a few more facts.

The first is whether or not the power of attorney is in effect, and your husband and sister-in-law are currently acting as agents. Most powers of attorney take effect when the principal is considered to lack mental capacity"”simply defined as being unable to care for himself or herself and handle decisions alone. That does not automatically happen when a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer's; some people remain capable of functioning"”and even driving safely"”at least into the early stages of the disease.

If your father-in-law's power of attorney has taken effect, however, then your husband and sister-in-law are legally responsible for acting in their father's "best interests." And if their father is truly a menace on the road, then they are shirking this duty, should be removed as agents and another person should be given the responsibility.

This is probably not what anyone involved likely wants to see happen. What you do want is to ensure that no one gets hurt on the road. If your father-in-law is still driving and you and others are concerned that this is no longer safe, then take immediate action by researching his local DMV's law on how to report an unsafe driver. In most states, a doctor, a family member, or often an anonymous "concerned citizen" can initiate a report. And in many cases, this is easier than forcing a family member's hand to give up the keys.

The DMV or other driving authority will then take steps to investigate. In most cases, the driver will then be given a written or physical driving test"”or both. After this, a driver's license may be limited"”to driving only during daylight or within a certain geographical distance, for example.

And if warranted, the license may also be revoked. If you anticipate this may be a painful issue for those concerned, you might also do some advance research about alternative transportation in the area; representatives at the assisted living facility may be the best place to start"”and may even provide options of their own.

Restricting or denying a person's driving privileges, even if it is an essential step, can feel like a daunting one. There is lots of good information and tips on how to proceed for you and yours at at

Community Answers

Ca-claire answered...

Having my parent's driving privileges revoked was one of the most difficult (and frustrating) things in my life to do. Difficult on two levels - emotionally (removing a valued privilege - which most people believe is a 'right'), and physically difficult - getting MD's to sign off, and getting the testing done at DMV to get the license revoked.

I tell people, if you are unwilling to ride in your parents' vehicle with them driving, or unwilling to have your children ride in your parents' vehicle with them driving - it's WAY PAST time to remove the driving privileges AND access to the vehicle.

Some parent's take it well - they get 'chauffeured' to all their destinations and appointments, others rage 'at the system' that took the license away from them, and if you tell them YOU were behind taking their license away, they will rage at you.

I had one sibling that felt it was safe, because they knew the immediate area around them. I said, the pedestrians and other vehicles change all the time, so it's not like a racetrack with only them driving - there is change all around when you drive in a town or city.

Once the car is taken away from them, transfer the ownership to whomever will be driving them around, and have them insure it. It will preserve the assets of the elders, in the case of an accident.

Please don't wait for an accident to happen - it will be devastating emotionally and physically for all parties if you wait for the accident to happen.

A fellow caregiver answered...

My daddy has Alzheimer's. he has not driven for over 3 years, thank goodness his Dr. told him to not drive any longer, then when he went to get his license renewed last year, he could not pass the test. He has been very good about not wanting to drive. I praise God that he has been so willing for me to drive him around.

Ca-claire answered...

You are very blessed to have a Father that was able to pay attention to his Doctor enough to stop driving. Some of our elders have dementia or hearing problems and miss most of what their physicians have to say at their appointments. When I first attended Physician appointments with my parents, I was absolutely shocked to see that they spent most of the time telling 'stories' to the Doctors, rather than listening to what they Doctor was trying to tell them.