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We know how difficult it can be for some seniors to have access to legal assistance these days. That’s why many seniors have been taking advantage of the Elder Law Project sponsored by the Neighborhood Legal Services Association (NLSA).

Through the Elder Law Project, NLSA provides attorneys to offer legal assistance and representation to seniors who may be victims of physical, emotional or financial abuse.  NLSA also assists in areas of special concern to seniors such as housing and landlord/tenant disputes, public benefits crises, unemployment compensation, sheriff sales, mortgage foreclosures and tax sales, living wills, health care planning and alternatives to guardianship.

NLSA provides these services in part through special subcontracts with the Allegheny County Area Agency on Aging (ACAAA), the Beaver County Office on Aging, the Butler County Area Agency on Aging and Lawrence County/Challenges: Options in Aging.

Last year, NLSA attorneys consulted on over 700 cases. Some of the more common problems handled by the Elder Law Project attorneys have to do with bankruptcy, mortgage foreclosures, evictions, power of attorneys, wills and debtor counseling, says Louise.

The Elder Law Project does not consult on criminal cases, or fee-producing cases such as medical malpractice, accident, disability and workers’ compensation. The program determines eligibility on a case-by-case basis during an initial free consultation.

Another program offered by the NLSA is the Older & Wiser program, a public service project jointly sponsored by the 14-county Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Services Consortium and local state legislators to present free legal information seminars on matters of special importance to seniors and their families.

The program was piloted in the summer of 2002. The seminars are two-hour legal information sessions designed to educate seniors, their families and caregivers. Previous seminars have focused on as living wills, powers of attorney, last wills, living trusts and healthcare facilities. The current series of seminars focuses on fraud committed against seniors and retirement benefits.

According to the NLSA, the seminars are arranged locally by legislators and include a presentation by a volunteer attorney, a question and answer session, referral information for direct legal services and take-home materials for attendees.

The biggest reason why seniors should take advantage of the program is to educate themselves, their families and caregivers, as to the options that are available to them. Support for the Older & Wiser program has come in the form of financial and in-kind contributions from both the legal and non-legal communities. Legal departments, law firms, corporations, and a foundation have provided brochures, booklets, pro bono trademark work, buttons and other items.

NLSA also works with the Elder Law Committee and Probate & Trust section of the Allegheny County Bar Association to recruit attorney volunteers who will present these seminars.  The programs are held at various venues including senior centers, churches, schools, recreation centers and municipal buildings.

Seniors who wish to see the attorney who presided over a seminar will be assessed $25 for the first half hour of consultation.

For more information about the Elder Law Project, please call the ACAAA SeniorLine at (412) 350-5460.  For more information on the Older & Wiser program, please call the NLSA at (412) 255-6700.

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