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At some point, we could all use a little help from our friends. Since our friends may need help themselves and family members may be far away or just not have the right skill set, we may find ourselves delegating tasks to people we hire.

Tasks for a personal assistant

We have probably been doing this all along: hiring babysitters, tax preparers, handymen, someone to help with yard work or the spring cleaning.

We may start with grocery and pharmacy delivery services, rides from Lyft or Uber, or lunch at the local Senior Center. When wet sheets get too heavy to lift, we may want someone to do the laundry and change the bedding. When we leave the stove on one too many times, we may want to call Meals on Wheels or arrange for someone to prepare a week’s worth of meals we can reheat in the microwave. When we forget to tell the doctor everything she needs to know or forget exactly what it was she said, we may want more than a ride: we may want someone to accompany us and take notes. When direct deposit and automatic withdrawals still leave us with too many bills and credit card invoices to review, we may want someone to help us pay the bills.

At this point, who we hire becomes very personal: the person will be in our home, however briefly, and will need to learn about our preferences be they for no onions in the spaghetti sauce to gel caps versus liquid medicine and how to spend our money.

6 tips for choosing the right personal assistant

1. Write a job description and contract

The first step is to write a job description and a contract, even for someone who comes once a week or occasionally accompanies you to the doctor’s office.

  • Exactly what is it you want done? When?
  • What if they can’t make it? Are late? (Beware the “no call, no show” syndrome which plagues the low-paying food service industry.)
  • How much will you pay? When?
  • What behavior is unacceptable? Smoking? Abusive language? Sloppiness?

2. Initial interview tips

The initial interview should not be in your home. You, a family member or friend or a geriatric care manager should meet the people who respond to your craigslist ad or are recommended by friends, neighbors or members of your church – or sent by an agency.

  • Ask for references – and check them.
  • Get a copy of the person’s Social Security Card and Driver’s License.
  • Run a background check. There are several low-cost online services.

3. Check your insurance policy

Make sure your renter’s or home owner’s policy (and, if driving is part of the job, your auto policy) will cover you if the person has an accident or breaks something.

4. Are they bonded?

If the person will be handling your checkbook, make sure that they are bonded.

5. Have someone perform interview with you

When you are ready to interview a select number of people and make your final decision, have someone else sit in on the interview. Ask them their impressions.

6. Set a trial period

Give the person you hire a trial period – but not your keys. Consider starting with two people and comparing how they do. Get someone to double check any figures. Have a back-up plan.

Remember that occasional contract work does not make you an employer but regular work at your direction, even part-time, does. Consider having ADP, Paychex or handle payroll deductions.



Estate Planning attorney, Terry Garrett, is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is active in the Texas and Austin Bar Associations. She graduated with honors from Cornell University. She was on the Dean’s List at Wharton Business School. She earned her J.D. at Columbia Law School, receiving the Parker Award and a Mellon Fellowship.

She assists families of people with special needs, people planning for the retirement years and people administering estates.

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