Dear Savvy Senior,
Where can seniors turn to for free or low-cost legal help? My husband and I need some professional legal assistance but don't have a lot of money to pay a high priced lawyer. What can you tell us?
--Seniors in Need
There are actually a number of free and low-cost legal resources available today to help seniors, but what's available to you and your husband will depend on where you live, the type legal assistance you need and your financial situation. Here are several resources 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.
Pro Bono programs: Usually sponsored by state or local bar associations, these programs help low-income people find volunteer lawyers who are willing to handle their cases for free. You can look for a pro bono program through the American Bar Association at findlegalhelp.org, or through lawhelp.org.
Senior Legal Hotlines: There are a number of states including the District of Columbia that offer senior legal hotlines, where all seniors over age 60 have access to free legal advice over the telephone. To find the states that offer this service and their toll free number, visit legalhotlines.org.
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 or your husband is 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 americanbar.org.
And finally, if you are an AARP member, one other discount resource that may be able to help you is AARP's Legal Services Network from Allstate. This service provides members a free legal consultation (up to 45 minutes) with an attorney along with 20 percent discounts on other legal services you may need. To locate a lawyer near you, call 866-330-0753.
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.