As Americans navigate the complexities of legal needs as they age, access to help becomes crucial since not all have the financial fitness needed to afford the costs of legal services.
Fortunately, there are free or low-cost options available to assist seniors in addressing a wide range of issues. These services offer support in areas such as advance directive planning, protection from scams, bankruptcy advice, and more.
While many of these services are through federal government agencies, and it may take some time to get access, your state may also offer free legal assistance.
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Each year, the IRS forgives millions in unpaid taxes. If you have more than $10,000 in tax debt, or have 3+ years of unfiled taxes, you could get forgiveness too. You might be eligible to lower the amount you owe, or eliminate your tax debt completely.
Easy Tax Relief could help you lower or get out of your tax debt for good. They’re well respected in the industry and have been recognized for their ethical standards when dealing with tax debt. While most tax companies just put you on a payment plan and file your taxes for you, Easy Tax Relief talks to the IRS directly. They can help you pay off your tax debt faster while potentially reducing what you owe.
Important: Not everyone will qualify. To take advantage of this special program you must owe more than $10,000 in past-due taxes.
Advance directive planning
Establishing your advance health care directive makes sure your medical wishes are known to your loved ones, medical professionals, and any relevant authorities. Without one in place, your boundaries may not be respected.
Most states have forms seniors can fill out — and administrative support — for your advance directive free of charge, empowering you to make informed decisions about your health.
An advance directive also allows you to choose someone to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so.
Securing affordable and safe housing is a fundamental right for seniors, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under Section 202 makes sure that you can protect yours without fear of becoming unhoused.
For assistance, get in touch with your local HUD office, which can head to grants.gov and submit an application "in response to a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA)."
For seniors facing severe financial hardship — often after a lifetime of hard work — going through bankruptcy can be legally and emotionally challenging.
On the upside, there are organizations such as Upsolve that are committed to making sure seniors who might benefit from filing bankruptcy can do so for free.
While they're not a substitute for a lawyer, they can help you navigate the paperwork process. Many law firms offer low-cost payment plans for people who are going through bankruptcy.
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Many seniors become disabled as they age, whether it's due to mobility issues, kidney failure, mental health issues, or other conditions.
Filing for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits becomes an important step at this time, but the process isn't easy and initial denials are frequent.
This is when hiring a lawyer or organization specializing in disability law can help you win your case. Some organizations may do this free of charge, while other firms won't collect a dollar unless they win your case.
Help is especially crucial in cases of elder abuse, whether it's physical, emotional, financial, or other. If you or a senior you love is being harmed, there are state-based hotlines that can connect you to the help you need to prevent further abuse.
They can help you obtain protective orders, seek justice against those who exploit older Americans, and potentially find needed funds for your legal case.
Seniors can receive free assistance for drafting and updating your will, trust, and other estate planning documents. This ensures that your assets are distributed according to your wishes without incident.
Organizations like AARP offer free online kits that can help you organize your estate planning documents. There are also websites with free videos to help you fill out everything properly.
Facing eviction is a scary and humiliating experience, but government services can give guidance and possible representation to seniors navigating eviction proceedings. These services work to protect your rights and prevent homelessness.
Get in touch with your state or local HUD office, which can connect you to resources that can help you stay in your home. These services are free of charge.
You might also consult the Older Americans Act (OAA), which was passed in 1965 to provide social services for seniors. These are available through the Administration for Community Living (ACL).
As seniors age, some may need to have a guardian to help them manage their affairs. However, sometimes the senior may feel that they don't need that intervention and need legal help to overturn a petition.
If you or a senior you love is experiencing unfair guardianship, you may be entitled to legal assistance under Title III-B of the Older Americans Act. Find local help on the Eldercare Locator website or call 1-800-677-1116.
If you're a senior who has fallen behind on your mortgage payments and is facing foreclosure, you may fear losing your home. This is a scary and overwhelming situation.
Your local HUD office may be able to connect you to resources that can help you stay in your home, including advocates who can work with your mortgage lender.
Some lenders may offer special forbearance, a mortgage modification, or other plans to help you stay in your home.
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Long-term care issues
If you or a senior you love is a resident in a long-term care facility such as a nursing home, ideally it's a safe, secure, and nurturing environment. Unfortunately, some facilities may be under-serving their residents.
If you need legal assistance related to subpar long-term care, reach out to a Long-Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman Program via the Eldercare Locator.
They have a solid history of resolving issues for vulnerable seniors, free of charge thanks to federal funding.
Public benefit access
Some resources are available to seniors to help facilitate independent living, such as Social Security, unemployment insurance, and Medicare and Medicaid.
These programs provide seniors with a monthly stipend, unemployment funds, and health insurance. If you need help navigating the paperwork to qualify for these programs, you may be entitled to legal assistance provided under Title III-B of the Older Americans Act.
Start by contacting your local Social Security office or the Administration for Community Living for assistance.
Unfortunately for everyone, scams are on the rise and are becoming more sophisticated with every passing day. In 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said that people over age 60 lost $1.6 billion to scammers. Investment scams took the greatest toll with $404 million in losses.
Fortunately, there is a free hotline (1-877-FTC-HELP or 1-877-382-4357) you can call if you or a senior has fallen prey to unethical and predatory scammers.
You will be connected to a case manager who will help you navigate the entire reporting — and hopefully restitution — process free of charge.
A significant portion of the senior population is veterans who have loyally served their country in a variety of military capacities.
If you or a senior veteran you love needs help with legal issues, you can frequently receive a free consultation at your local VA facility.
There are also several organizations you can reach out to online to retain pro bono council, such as the veterans arm of the American Bar Association's Free Legal Answers for military-specific cases and its Military Pro Bono Project for civil cases.
Free legal services can be a lifeline for seniors facing various challenges.
From protecting yourself from abuse to stopping exploitative scammers, these resources ensure you can avoid wasting money, have access to justice, and protect your rights without the burden of high legal fees.
You can also reach out to the Senior Legal Hotline Directory or Lawhelp.org for more general inquiries. No matter what, advocating for yourself and getting the legal help you need is a worthy endeavor.