Free clinic to aid seniors in legal matters

Kristin Tyler possesses a special passion for the elderly, dedicating much of her career to protecting this segment of the population from predators seeking to cash in on Las Vegas’ most vulnerable residents.

Senior citizens descend upon Southern Nevada with dreams of living out their retirement in a warm climate, but many fail to ensure their money to live out those visions is secure.

“I love working for this group in the community,” Tyler said. “I love hearing how they live their lives and have grown their estates with the idea of leaving a legacy after they’re gone.”

Ensuring the legacy for which the elderly worked so hard continues on, Tyler volunteered to chair a “Serving Seniors” event April 26 at the West Charleston Library. The clinic will include a forum of about 30 attorneys available to talk to seniors one-on-one regarding estate planning, Social Security, guardianship, wills and probate issues.

The best part? It’s free.

“We wanted to give back to the community and answer questions seniors might have,” Tyler said.

The program, a partnership between the Young Lawyers Section of the State Bar of Nevada, Nevada Legal Services and the Southern Nevada Senior Law Program, was introduced in Northern Nevada last year and met with some success. About 20 seniors attended the clinic.

If the Southern Nevada event proves to be successful, the State Bar might consider hosting quarterly clinics, Tyler said.

During her tenure as an attorney with special interest in the elderly community, Tyler said one of the most significant missteps she has witnessed seniors take is failing to name powers of attorney. These representatives are critical if an elderly person becomes incapacitated.

“People move here with no family,” Tyler said. “There are no powers of attorney to contact, to keep predators away. Planning for being incapacitated is overlooked.”

In Southern Nevada, estate planning isn’t the only legal challenge seniors face. Like much of the population, they might be navigating through a confusing process in order to save their homes. They might need guidance filing a claim after an accident. They could be victims of fraud.

“I would term some of these issues as ‘elder exploitation,’ people preying on (seniors’) willingness to share information they shouldn’t share,” Tyler said. “These situations are something we would do our very best to help with.”

While the focus of the clinic is on estate planning, it can also serve as a starting point for other legal questions, Tyler said.

The organizations can assist elderly residents in identifying lawyers who might represent them pro bono or at a low cost. They would also inform them if the Metropolitan Police Department should become involved in their case.

Barry Gold, director of AARP Nevada, supports the effort to provide easy access to lawyers. While there are Southern Nevada organizations that offer legal advice to the senior community, often those in need must place their names on waiting lists.

“I think it’s always a good idea when there are people available to answer questions from the senior population,” Gold said. “There are limited resources for them in the community and many of the seniors are on fixed income, so pro bono really helps.”

Learning about the importance of powers of attorney is critical for seniors and ultimately their relatives, but Gold said many elderly residents have concerns about scams and mortgage fraud and questions about reverse foreclosures.

They might be hesitant to outwardly pursue an attorney to seek answers to those questions.

“There are a lot of places to go but there is a waiting list so this offers an opportunity for people to talk to attorneys and have their questions answered,” Gold said. “There are those initial questions about estate planning and those kinds of issues but there could also be secondary problems.

“Sometimes they may not be as eager to address them with someone until they sit down with attorney and feel free to talk.”