Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : April 2007

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 PRO BONO Profile:  

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 Act.
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 pbrc@probonomd.org

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: April  2007