What legal rights to do grandchildren have in determining whether grandma is fit to live alone?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 11, 2010
A fellow caregiver asked...

My 95-year old grandmother insists on living out her last years alone in her Texas home. It is much too big for her to manage alone, but she refuses to hire help or move into an assisted living facility. Both of her sons are deceased, and all of us grandkids live out of state. What rights and responsibilities do we have under the law?

Expert Answers

Nan Hayes is founder of MoveSeniors.com, the national resource network of Certified Relocation and Transition Specialists for seniors, and President of RightSized Living, a senior home transition service in Illinois.

Your Grandmother must be a very independent woman and that is not unusual for her generation. Your concern for her is wonderful and she is fortunate to have caring relatives. Without details on her health status, it is difficult to say absolutely what should happen, but we can provide a starting point.

If her living conditions and physical or mental health are not at issue, there may not be a need for her to move to a community. To determine how secure she is in her home, you may wish to address the following:
- Does she see a doctor regularly?
- Can she manage her medications?
- Are her living conditions sound?
- Does she eat regularly?
- Does she have a supportive group of friends and neighbors?
- Does she have someone to watch over her finances and/or legal issues?
- Is there someone who checks in on her now and then to see if she requires any assistance?
- Does she have a way to summon help if it is needed?

You may not want to ask all this at once, but find out over time, or during your next visit.
To get a full sense of your legal rights and responsibilities, you will need to consult an attorney, preferably one specializing in elder care law. But in general, without a healthcare power of attorney, or unless your grandmother is somehow declared incompetent or is sent to nursing care under medical directive, there is little for you to do.

If she has not assigned healthcare power of attorney to anyone or has not established any advanced directives you may want to approach her about the future. You do not need to live near her to help with these items and it may help to make YOU feel more secure. The best way to start that conversation is by letting her know you do respect her decision to be independent and want to honor her wishes, both for today and at a time when she may not be able to represent herself.

You might find that once trust has been established along these lines, she may be more willing to discuss other aspects of home and health care.