Aging parents: Have a plan

Many of the same parenting tips I received for raising children equally apply to those aging.

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  • | 5:10 a.m. April 1, 2021
  • The Bar Bulletin
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By Michelle Bedoya Barnett, JBA President

When I was pregnant for the first time, lawyers, both male and female, would reach out and offer support for my transition to parenthood and how to manage doing it all.

Michelle Bedoya Barnett
Michelle Bedoya Barnett

It seemed as if I could master that transition, the rest would be smooth sailing. I would get up a little earlier, get the kids’ school schedule as soon as it came out so that I could calendar it and then coordinate around it and buy and order the school supply list in July before the school year rush.

I’d plan the birthday parties early, schedule the pediatrician appointment as the first one of the day to avoid having to wait on a doctor who was running behind and always have extra adhesive bandages, unexpired Children’s Tylenol, a change of clothes and plenty of snacks on hand.

In the past 12 years of parenthood, I found a lot of good advice about how to manage my life as a lawyer and mom. I also have learned that whatever it is, if it works for you, it is the perfect and right thing to do.

What I have not run across are a lot of resources to help me be the perfect lawyer child for my aging parents.

Ironically, I often joke that I have small kids and big kids. If you are not a parent, trust me, “raising” your elderly parents gives rise to a lot of the same responsibility, stress and joy that comes with raising children.

Like with my children, my goal for my parents is not only to get them through the process of aging, but to create for them a rich and wonderful environment where they feel valued and cared for and in which they have the right amount of independence yet the right amount of support to ensure that they do not fail.

My siblings and I have had candid discussions with my parents in recent years about their stage in life. I find that many of the same parenting tips I received for raising children equally apply to aging parents:

Give them choices as often as you can, because at some point you may have to make choices for them.

They value your time and shared experiences much more than material things.

Give them jobs. Everyone wants to feel part of the tribe. They want to feel like they are making your life easier or at least fuller.

Ask them about their day.

Be a friend. For the most part, their friends may be moving, dying or generally disengaging.

Carry on the family traditions and include them in new traditions.

Schedule visits, birthday dinners and other events in advance so they have it on their calendar and can look forward to it.

Depending on your comfort level in compiling this information, I recommend having the following in one centralized place:

  • Medication list
  • Doctor information
  • Advance directives documents
  • Copies of their insurance cards
  • Bank account information
  • Copies of their driver licenses

Having these items accessible on your phone or laptop is important. In the event of an emergency, having them in a locked file cabinet at your office is not helpful.

As a lawyer, I know that being prepared and having everything in good legal order is important. I have relied tremendously on our member resources and on Jacksonville Bar Association members in helping to make this possible.

There is an adage that says, “a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” If you need to plan for yourself, for your parents or for a family member, this is not a time to figure it out on your own.

I encourage you to avail yourself of the resources available to you as a lawyer, including the JBA’s excellent Elder Law Committee and its Chairs Mike Jorgensen and Allison Hickman.

The association’s many resources can help us care for our aging parents in the same way they have cared for us our entire lives.

In their life transition, whether it’s emotional or legal support, no one should take that step alone.

Michelle Bedoya Barnett is a founding partner of Alexander DeGance Barnett, focusing on labor and employment law.