A lot of the information that will bombard you, as you wonder ‘Am I legally responsible for my elderly parent’ won’t actually be relevant. Much of the information out there covers the fact this is different from state to state in America. Here in the UK, it’s much more consistent. Knowing if you’re legally responsible for your parent in the UK is thankfully more straightforward and clear.
The very short answer to this question is: no, you are not legally responsible for your elderly parent if you’re in the UK. When it comes to practical advice about care for the elderly, things are straight forward on paper.
However, as with many things in life, the short answer doesn’t always paint the whole picture. Fundamentally, you are not responsible for your parents in a legal sense. The reality may be quite different though depending on your morals, whether you’ve taken out contracts with a care provider on their behalf, or if you’ve got power of attorney.
Whilst in law you aren’t responsible for your elderly parents, morally you may feel that you are. This will differ according to your cultural beliefs, wider society pressure and the relationship you have had with your parents over the years.
Many feel that there is a moral obligation towards their parents. Indeed, some will argue that individuals are as responsible for the wellbeing of their parents as they are for their dependent children, and this includes caring for the elderly relative in their own home. Driven by loyalty, gratitude for what they have done for you, and straightforward love, it is very common to feel that you have a responsibility for your parents.
However, this is a hugely complex discussion dependent on multiple factors concerning the individuals involved.
What we do know is that if you feel a strong obligation or responsibility, then you can be left with overwhelming feelings of guilt, shame, and regret, if you don’t take that responsibility seriously.
In order to navigate this, we highly recommend giving the situation some time and thought before situations arise in which you may feel you need to actively take responsibility. It’s much easier to have considered your own unique relationships, what your parents want, and what you can realistically offer, before you’re under the emotional pressure that comes from a difficult or urgent situation.
If you decide that you welcome the responsibility towards your elderly parent, then it makes sense to organise to become their power of attorney. This puts your decision onto a more secure legal footing. It will give you the authority to make decisions, for example about their finances or their health, when it is necessary for you to.
If your elderly parent still has mental capacity, obviously they should be fully engaged in this decision. Pre-emptively arranging a lasting power of attorney (LPA) ensures that, when it becomes necessary, the legalities are all in place for you to take over their affairs.
Finances need to be considered slightly separately. Again, fundamentally, you are not legally liable for your elderly parent when it comes to managing their finances. You aren’t obliged to pay for them or their care.
However, you may become legally responsible if you choose to personally take on different aspects of their finances. For example, if you decide to voluntarily help with care fees and take out a contract with the care provider, for example a domiciliary care agency, then you will become responsible under the terms of that agreement.
This is a relatively common situation. Many adult children feel that they want to enable their elderly parents to have a higher standard of care than their parent would otherwise be able to afford. In these situations, a third party contract is made with the care provider for a top-up fee. In these instances, the adult child is only responsible for the financial terms as stipulated within that contract. The contract doesn’t automatically extend their legal responsibility to other areas.
Again, it’s really important to give this situation some thought before deciding whether or not to take on this responsibility. It isn’t legally necessary, and you should consider your current and ongoing financial situation. This is particularly important if the local authority is providing some of the care funding. It is possible that the annual increase in money from the local authority doesn’t match the annual fee increase from the care provider. It will then be your responsibility to meet this shortfall.
However, your local authority cannot look at your assets when carrying out the means test to see if your parent gets financial help. They only look at your parent’s own assets and money in the bank. This gets a little more complicated if your parents have joint assets, as the local authority will consider these and you may feel that you need to step in to protect the other parent financially. Bear in mind that the figures used by local authorities vary across the UK nations.
Remember that caring for an elderly parent isn’t the same as having legal responsibility. It can be challenging looking after your parent, and opting to use a care home can reduce the burden on both you and your parent.