Column: How seniors can get free legal help
Dear Wise Senior: Can you recommend resources that offer free or low-cost legal services to seniors? I am 68 years old and need professional legal assistance, but my funds are limited. – Need help
Dear need: There are actually a number of free and inexpensive legal resources that can help seniors in need, but which ones are available to you will depend on where you live, the type of legal assistance you need, and your financial situation. Here are several options to check out.
Legal aid: Run by Legal Services Corp., Legal Aid provides free legal assistance to low-income people of all ages. Community programs will differ slightly in the services they offer and income requirements. See LSC.gov/find-legal-aid to locate a program in your area.
Free legal answers: This is an online program created by the American Bar Association that matches low-income clients with volunteer attorneys who agree to provide brief answers online free of charge. This service will not answer criminal law questions and is not available in all states. Visit ABAfree legalanswers.org to find a program in your state.
Pro bono and senior legal hotlines: Typically sponsored by state or local bar associations, pro bono programs help low-income people find pro bono attorneys who are willing to handle their cases for free.
There are also a number of states that still offer senior citizen helplines, where anyone over the age of 60 can access free legal advice over the phone. To find out if one of these services is available in your state, go to LawHelp.org and click “Find Help Near You.”
Senior legal services: Coordinated by the Administration on Aging, this service could offer free or low-cost legal advice, legal assistance, or access to legal representation for people over 60. Your regional agency on aging can tell you what is available in your community. Call Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 for your local number.
National Disability Rights Network: It is a non-profit organization that provides legal assistance to people with disabilities through its Protection and Advocacy System and Client Assistance Program. If you are disabled, visit NDRN.org to find help in your state.
If you cannot get help from one of these programs or find that you are not eligible, another option is to contact your state or local bar, who may be able to refer you to a cheap lawyer. Or, you might want to consider hiring a lawyer for only part of the legal work and doing the other parts yourself. This is called “unbundled legal services”.
Many law societies offer public service-oriented lawyer referral services that will interview clients and help identify issues that a lawyer could solve. If a lawyer can help you solve your problem, the service will provide you with a referral to a lawyer. If the issue does not require the involvement of a lawyer, the service will provide information about other organizations in your community who may be able to help you. Most of these attorney referral services conduct their interviews and make referrals over the phone.
To contact your state or local bar, go to www.FindLegalHelp.org.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” show and the author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send questions to Savvy Senior, PO Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.