2010-06-02 / Seniors

Legal Help For Seniors

Dear Savvy Senior,

What do elder law attorneys do? My parents need some legal help with an insurance problem and a long-term care issue but have limited funds. What can you tell us and where can we find help?

Legally Gray

Dear Gray:

When it comes to specialized areas of law, most people are more familiar with corporate, criminal or even divorce law than they are elder law, but elder law has become one of the fastest growing fields in the legal profession. Here’s what you should know.

Elder Law

Elder law is a sub-specialty within the practice of law that focuses on the issues specific to older citizens, as well as people with disabilities and their families. Some of the areas that fall under the umbrella of elder law include: estate planning, wills, probate, trusts, management and administration of estates; long-term care, nursing home or assisted living issues; claims and appeals for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, SSI, disability, pension and insurance; end-of-life planning, including durable powers of attorney, living wills, advanced directives, conservatorships and guardianships, and elder rights including age discrimination, elder abuse and fraud.

If you do decide to go with an elder law attorney, keep in mind that most don’t specialize in all areas of elder law, so you’ll need to choose someone who has the expertise that matches your parents’ needs.

To help locate an elder law attorney in your area, try the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, which provides a national listing on their Web site at www.naela.org. When you do your search, look for the CELA (Certified Elder Law Attorney) designation after the attorney’s name. This indicates enhanced knowledge and experience in the field.

Free Legal Help

If your parents can’t afford to pay attorney fees, there are a variety of other resources available that offer free or low-cost legal help to seniors and people with limited means. Here are some to check into:

Senior Legal Hotlines: 27 states, including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, offer senior legal hotlines that provide all seniors over age 60 access to free legal advice over the telephone. To find the states that offer this service and their toll free number, visit www.legalhotlines.org.

Legal Services for Elderly: Coordinated by the Administration on Aging, this service may offer free or low-cost legal advice, legal assistance or access to legal representation to people over the age of 60. Your Area Agency on Aging (get your local number by calling 800-677-1116) can tell you what’s available in your community.

• Pro Bono Programs: Usually sponsored by state or local bar associations, these programs help low-income people find volunteer lawyers who are willing to handle their cases for free. Look for a pro bono program at www.lawhelp.org.

Legal Aid: Directed by the Legal Services Corporation, legal aid offers free legal assistance to financially eligible people of all ages. Each community program will differ in the services they offer and income qualifications. See www.lsc.gov/map to locate a legal aid program in your area.

AARP Legal Services Network: This service provides AARP members a free legal consultation (up to 45 minutes) with an attorney in your area, along with discounts on other legal services you may need. To locate a lawyer near you, visit aarplsn.com or call 866- 330-0753.

Savvy Tip: The American Bar Association also provides a nice listing of state resources on their Web site, www.findlegalhelp.org, to help you find legal assistance in your area.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to “The NBC Today Show” and author of The Savvy Senior books.

The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.

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