March 06, 2014

Serving Our Seniors

ABA YLD 2011-2012 Public Service Project: Serving Our Seniors

During the 2011-2011 bar year, this national public service's goal was to help protect America’s senior population and provide them with peace of mind regarding future healthcare and financial decisions.

The Need

America’s quickly-growing senior population faces numerous challenges. Senior citizens are one of our most vulnerable and underrepresented populations, with many seniors living near or below the poverty line.

Many seniors face critical economic and healthcare decisions without the ability to hire legal counsel. Seniors are often unaware that help is available through the assistance of non-profit, legal service organizations. Approximately half of our senior citizens have neither a living will nor have discussed end-of-life decisions with their children. A recent study by MetLife and others concluded that elder financial abuse costs senior citizens approximately $2.6 billion annually. Seniors need legal advice and guidance in order to understand the importance of basic estate planning and to complete necessary documentation in order that their wishes will be observed at important moments in their lives. In short, a need for legal assistance for our low-income senior population remains unmet by the private bar, and legal aid organizations are simply unable to meet the demand.

The Answer

Serving Our Seniors helped fulfill this need by educating seniors about their estate planning options and providing direct legal assistance through coordination with existing legal service agencies. The primary goals of the Serving Our Seniors program were:
  • to educate seniors about their estate planning options; and
  • to empower them to take steps now to plan for their future and protect themselves from becoming victims of fraud and abuse. As reinforcements to the legal aid organizations currently committed to this issue, the ABA YLD and its members represent a new front in the battle to ensure that low-income seniors have basic estate plans in place throughout the nation.

The ABA Young Lawyers Division, along with the Chicago Bar Association Young Lawyers Section, the Chicago Bar Foundation, and Illinois Legal Aid Online, developed the Serving Our Seniors program based on a clinical project created by the Center for Disability and Elder Law. Serving Our Seniors provided a comprehensive multi-media package including educational outreach, training, and implementation materials to assist young lawyers in providing low-income seniors with legal advice regarding the creation of basic estate plans, including powers of attorney for healthcare and property, living wills, and simple wills.