As a kid, watching law shows on television, Karen Jackson would get sweaty palms when the lawyer entered the courtroom.
That’s how she knew: “I was called to be a lawyer,” she says.
In the 1970s, she answered the call and studied at Loyola Law School in California, when only one third of her graduating class was women. After graduating, she spent years working as a trial attorney for other people, covering every case imaginable, from murders to parking tickets. Over the years, she noticed that there was a tremendous amount of needless suffering in the aging population around planning for end of life situations. This stirred a passion in her to help the aging community, and she decided to open a private practice in Holyoke, focusing on elder law and estate planning. That was 20 years ago, and since has guided countless people through their end-of-life decisions.
“It’s very satisfying. I help people everyday,” Jackson says. “They come in very stressed, and they leave very light because they know that there is a solution.”
Jackson now spends her days counseling clients on planning for the possibility that they might need some sort of nursing assistance, either in an assisted living facility or at home. She spends much of her time doing community outreach, teaching a course at Holyoke Community College every fall and spring to spread awareness about the importance of end-of-life planning.
“I find that people are very interested in learning and understanding elder law and estate planning, and I love teaching these topics,” she says. “I am very passionate about my work.”
A main component of the education that she provides to her clients is making sure that they know about key documents, such as the health care proxy, a form naming a person to make health care decisions in the instance that the individual cannot make decisions for themselves.
This document can help avoid messy situations should someone become mentally incapacitated due to an accident or dementia. It ensures that their wishes are known well ahead of time, says Jackson: “It is important to talk to your health care proxy and let them know what you want.”
Much of Jackson’s work is consulting with adult children who are in charge of their parents’ affairs. This group is typically very overwhelmed. They are often juggling raising their children and working fulltime, on top of handling their parents’ affairs. Jackson takes pride in guiding them through the weeds to the resources that they need. She might help them apply for funding from MassHealth to help cover the cost of nursing homes. She might direct them to a number of articles that she has written on her website on resources such as the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, an adult-daycare program and Senior Care Options, a program to help pay for home and assisted-living care. “It is a jungle out there. I help them navigate the maze on how to care for their aging parents,” she says.
Her favorite part of the job is just putting people at ease. Lucy, the office golden retriever, also helps by greeting clients at the door. Jackson has a team with one office manger and a paralegal, but she is the one lawyer, and that’s how she likes it.
“This way I have the freedom to to do things the way I want them done,” she says. “I always try to keep improving my procedures. Every day, I try to get better even, after all of these years.”
Her advice for young entrepreneurs: “Follow your passion. Do what’s fun, and the money will follow,” she says. “Trust your instincts. You have a lot of wisdom.”