Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you recommend any resources that provide free or low-cost legal services to seniors? I’m 68 and need some professional legal assistance but have limited funds.
There are actually a number of free and low-cost legal resources that can help seniors in need, but what’s available to you will depend on where you live, the type legal assistance you need and your financial situation. Here are several options to check into.
Legal Aid: Directed by the Legal Services Corporation, legal aid offers free legal assistance to low-income people of all ages. Each community program will differ slightly in the services they offer and income qualifications. 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 lawyers who agree to provide brief answers online for free. This service will not answer criminal law questions, and it’s not available in every state. Visit ABAfreelegalanswers.org to look for a program in your state.
Pro Bono and Senior Legal Hotlines: Usually sponsored by state or local bar associations, pro bono programs help low-income people find volunteer lawyers who are willing to handle their cases for free.
There are also a number of states that still offer senior legal hotlines, where all seniors over age 60 have access to free legal advice over the telephone. To find out if either of these services are available in your state, go to LawHelp.org, and click on “Find help near you.”
Senior Legal Services: 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 can tell you what’s available in your community. Call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to get your local number.
National Disability Rights Network: This is a nonprofit membership organization that provides legal assistance to people with disabilities through their Protection and Advocacy System and Client Assistance Program. If you are disabled, visit NDRN.org to find help in your state.
If you can’t get help from one of these programs, or find that you aren’t eligible, another option is to contact your state or local bar association, which may be able to refer you to a low-fee lawyer. Or, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer for only part of the legal work and doing other parts yourself. This is known as “unbundled legal services.”
Many bar associations offer public service-oriented lawyer referral services that will interview clients and help identify the problems a lawyer could help them with. If a lawyer can help with your problem, the service will provide you with a referral to a lawyer. If the problem does not require a lawyer, the service will provide information on other organizations in your community that may be able to help. Most of these lawyer referral services conduct their interviews and make referrals over the phone.
To contact your state or local bar association, go to www.FindLegalHelp.org.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.