Many seniors depend on government programs for their health care, basic income, and housing. Unfortunately, government agencies are notoriously difficult to navigate. Your elderly loved one may need help navigating the red tape and bureaucracy to keep or receive the benefits for which they qualify.
Luckily, if you are seeking senior legal assistance, there are many options available — most at little or no cost to those over the age of 60.
We do have to note that, while we believe this article is accurate and up-to-date as of the time of its posting, it is not meant to serve as legal advice. We will be discussing your rights as a senior citizen and how to protect those rights by connecting with legal aid for the elderly. However, this cannot replace the advice of a lawyer. If you have questions about senior legal assistance, contact one of our Information & Assistance Specialists.
1. Situations In Which You May Need Senior Legal Assistance
There are many reasons you may need to seek legal aid or advice as an elder. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it does introduce circumstances with which you may want to seek help. These situations include:
- Making or changing your will;
- Moving to retirement housing;
- Facing possible eviction or loss of your home;
- Experiencing problems with grandparent visitation rights;
- Buying or selling land or valuable personal property;
- Being sued or receiving any legal documents;
- Not receiving pension promised by an employer;
- Renting from a landlord who refuses to make your dwelling safe and livable;
- Being cheated by a store, door-to-door salesperson, or mail-order house scheme;
- Encountering discrimination based on your age (i.e. you were fired, refused a promotion, or refused credit);
- Not receiving your full benefits from Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Disability, or the Veteran’s Administration;
- Receiving calls from bill collectors multiple times a day, at night, or during embarrassing times;
- Discovering your spouse or parent is becoming mentally incompetent and/or unable to care for themselves; and
- Being pushed toward entering a nursing home or assisted living home by your family when you do not want to go.
Again, these are not the only scenarios in which you may need to seek senior legal assistance. If you are experiencing any of these situations, or you have any questions about contacting elder-specific legal assistance in your area, contact your Area Agency on Aging.
2. Legal Aid for Elderly Arkansans Applying for Government Benefits
Many seniors and their families are told to apply for government benefits like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Unfortunately, not everyone knows you can get an attorney’s help filling out the massive piles of elaborate and confusing paperwork required to receive those benefits.
Many seniors have a right to these benefits by law, and a court can enforce those rights. If you have received a decision from a particular agency denying your benefits for reasons you believe to be wrong or incorrect, you are within your rights to request their reasons for denial in writing and an appeal.
If you do need an appeal, seeking a lawyer’s help — and quickly — is the best approach. Many agencies have time limits on appeals; you usually cannot have the decision changed after the time limit passes.
3. Protection From and the Right to Not Be a Victim of Fraud
Senior citizens are often considered easy victims for dishonest telemarketers, door-to-door salesmen, and other, sometimes disreputable individuals or businesses. The best way to protect yourself from these kinds of fraud is by never signing anything you have not read or do not fully understand. Make sure any written contract describes what you think you are buying accurately.
If you have questions, are confused, or suspect the wording feels suspicious, do not rely on the salesperson to explain it to you. Contact a trusted family member or a lawyer to look over the document. You have certain rights when you buy something from a merchant — unless you “waive” them by signing a deceptive contract. Luckily, other rights cannot be signed away, no matter what the contract says.
The Cooling Off Period
If you buy something that costs more than $25 on credit from someone outside of a place of business (for example, from a telemarketer), you have the right to cancel your purchase by midnight of the third business day after the credit agreement is signed. You are required to give the seller notice of cancellation in writing. A lawyer can assist you with this, and make sure no retribution follows.
Protection from Deceptive or Unfair Trade Practices
A merchant is not allowed to use deceptive or unfair methods to get you to buy their product. For instance, they cannot “bait and switch.” This means the merchant is not allowed to advertise one product (with no intention of selling it), induce you to buy it, and then swap the product for an inferior or more expensive item.
Protection from False, Misleading, and Deceptive Advertising
Anything advertised as “free” must, in fact, be free. No strings can be attached to a purchase unless they are stated just as prominently on the advertisement.
Right to Keep Unsolicited Goods
Free papers and magazines or free promotional products sent in the mail are free. No one has the right to ask you to return them or pay for them. Never send money to someone who claims you are “stealing” their promotional products. Contact a lawyer immediately.
Protection from Unconscionable Contracts or Clauses
If a contract or a clause is deemed to be “unconscionable,” a court can refuse to enforce it. Unconscionable means unfair because it is completely one-sided in favor of the merchant or seller. If you believe you have been scammed in such a way, contact a lawyer immediately.
4. Accessing Senior Legal Assistance For Free or Lowered Fees
Thanks to a network of local attorneys, our regional Agencies are able to offer legal advice for older people in the area who cannot afford an attorney. These services are often free of charge. Pursuing more complicated or specialized cases may require payment — but for much lower fees than usual.
For More Information
If you have any questions about senior legal assistance or are seeking legal aid for the elderly in your area, contact the Arkansas Association of Area Agencies on Aging today!