Legal Services for the Elderly
By Jon MoseleyMost people like to think things will get better
as we age. For the lucky ones, life does get easier and more enjoyable with
aging. Monthly bills get smaller, kids leave the nest and the mortgage is finally
history. Even a night on the town can cost less as our years pile up. Unfortunately,
this is not the case for many seniors throughout the state of Maryland. The
elderly face a myriad of issues at a time in their lives when strength and
ability may be weakened.
Locally, our senior citizens may be forced to contend with the daunting task
of making sense of ground rents or be unaware of the dire consequences caused
by failure to pay those rents. Many of the elderly, whether in Baltimore or
other more rural regions, are often targets for unscrupulous and/or illegal
business practices or scams. Predatory lenders have coerced many of our seniors
into loans or mortgages that they are unable to maintain, causing bankruptcy
or foreclosure as a result.
The concerns facing seniors today are not necessarily limited to a wrong
or fraud perpetrated by others. On occasion, the problem is merely an accumulation
of smaller issues that have become overwhelming. Circumstances may change,
perhaps only slightly at first. An unexpected hospitalization, a child not
doing well on his or her own, or even an event that you have been hoping
would occur might boomerang unexpectedly, i.e. the value of your home has
increased to the point you can’t pay the taxes.
According to Tracey Harvin, staff attorney for Legal Services for the Elderly,
increasing property taxes have created a problem for seniors on a fixed income
for some time. This is an area where there is a very real risk of the elderly
losing their home. “The amount of tax that is due increases with the
value of the property,” says Harvin, “and although credits may
be available, the credit may not be enough, or seniors may not qualify.”
Fortunately, for the past 16 years there has been a strong advocate for the
elderly in Baltimore City, Legal Services for the Elderly. The program is the
result of collaboration between the Bar Association of Baltimore City and the
Baltimore City Commission on Aging and Retirement Education (CARE). Together,
these two organizations joined resources to provide Title IIIB services to
the residents of Baltimore City (60 years and older) under the Older Americans
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Older Americans Act into law in 1964.
The Act created the Administration on Aging and established grants for community
planning and service programs, in addition to funding research, demonstration
and training in the field of aging. Additional amendments created grants to
address local needs identification, planning and service funding. Those services
included, but were not limited to:
- nutrition programs
- programs for elder Native Americans,
- services targeted at low-income minority elders,
- programs targeting health promotion and disease prevention,
- in-home services for frail elders, as well as services such as the
long-term care ombudsman program.
Harvin says many times seniors just need some help navigating through the
maze of federal, state and local laws, regulations and programs necessary
to collect Social Security, other public benefits and their pensions. Still,
others find the consequences of living on a fixed income more difficult than
they had envisioned.
Legal Services to the Elderly has a two-pronged approach to providing legal
services to seniors. Many volunteer attorneys provide direct representation
for those clients in need. Other volunteer lawyers go to locations where
senior citizens are likely to gather such as senior centers, places of worship
or nursing homes. The Legal Services to the Elderly program is always interested
in new volunteers, whether they are attorneys, law students, college students
or other persons concerned about Baltimore City’s elderly population.
“Our services are available in almost all areas of legal expertise,” Harvin
states. “If you are 60 years of age and a resident of the city of Baltimore,
we will talk to you about your legal needs. We encourage seniors to call
us before the problem is upon them rather than after.”
Lend your resources to the fight. Support pro bono work in your community.
Jon Moseley is Director of Volunteer Services & Community Outreach for
the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC). If you would like more information
about volunteer opportunities available in your community, contact PBRC at
(410) 837-9379 or (800) 396-1274, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.