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Virginia Beach Estate Planning Lawyer / Blog / Elder Law / Novel program brings legal assistance to people who need it most

Novel program brings legal assistance to people who need it most

A recent blog on the website of The New York Times highlighted a fine program in California that provides legal help for the elderly while giving real-life experience to law students.

The piece by Paula Span, author of “When the Time Comes: Families With Aging Parents Share Their Struggles and Solutions,” also brings a focus on an important issue, that of a segment of the population greatly in need of a great deal of legal assistance often not getting it.

“Consider the geriatricians working at the Lakeside Senior Medical Center, an outpatient clinic at the University of California, San Francisco,” Span writes. “Many of their patients, despite multiple chronic diseases and advanced age, have never filled out power-of-attorney documents or appointed someone to make health care decisions if they are unable to. Sometimes, the doctors suspect their patients might qualify for public benefits they are not getting, like food stamps or MediCal, the state’s version of Medicaid. Perhaps they face problems with landlords or appear to be victims of financial abuse, or they ought to have a simple will.

“In other words, they need lawyers. But trying to get frail, low-income seniors to consult an elder attorney can seem an insurmountable problem. How will they travel to a law office? Or pay a fee that can reach $300 an hour? Even if the doctors can refer them to a legal aid office, will their elderly patients actually make an appointment? Then remember to go?”

The solution at this particular location, and one that deserves to be duplicated all across the country, is that each semester eight students from the University of California Hastings College of the Law spend 12 to 15 hours a week at the clinic under a program called the Medical-Legal Partnership for Seniors.

“The physicians do the initial screenings, hear what their patients’ problems are, take the history and they essentially write a prescription: ‘Go down the hall and see my friends at U.C. Hastings for help with this housing issue,’ ” Sarah Hooper, who teaches at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, was quoted as saying.

“On the one hand, we have an aging population, for whom understanding a legal document and getting it witnessed and notarized can be daunting, even if people don’t have to do battle over benefits,” Span wrote in conclusion. “On the other, we have law schools scrambling for ways to give their students hands-on experience.

“These folks need each other.”

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