By A.M. Sheehan
COUNTY — Angela Morgan loves her new job.
An attorney, she could have chosen a number of high-paying specialties. Instead, she has focused her budding career on nonprofits.
To the benefit of Oxford County’s aging population, she has just joined Legal Services for the Elderly (LSE).
According to the LSE website, LSE provides persons age 60 and older with free legal advice regarding health care, health insurance, Medicare (including Part D), MaineCare (Medicaid), Social Security and other public benefits, pension and retirement benefits, power of attorney, consumer matters including creditor and bankruptcy problems, physical and financial abuse, guardianship defense and other issues.
Elderly is somewhat a misnomer. The agency provides free legals services for anyone after the age of 60. Not so elderly and the services are not so well known.
Morgan intends to change that.
The 30-year-old, mother of two from Richmond has an infectious smile and tireless enthusiasm, which she will need as she runs between Augusta and Lewiston offices, and clients in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties.
Currently LSE has 207 clients in Oxford County, and 74 between Paris, Oxford, Norway, Hebron, Buckfield, Sumner, Hartford, Otisfield, Waterford, Harrison, West Paris, Greenwood and Woodstrock.
She explains how LSE works.
“We have a Help Line and that is the first step,” she explains. “Call the help line and a paralegal will take your information and one of our two full-time attorneys (we call the Help Line Attorneys) will call you back within two days. They answer all sorts of questions.”
These attorneys, she says, have a broad range of knowledge and can advise on all sorts of issues. There is also a referral panel of attorneys throughout the state (attorneys LSE can refer a client to) that have reduced rates for LSE referrals.
If the issue needs a face-to-face meeting, she says, she (or other staff attorneys) will meet with the client.
Morgan cites such issues as losing benefits or shelter, eviction, losing homecare hours or food stamps as common issues they help clients with.
“Anything that puts our vulnerable population at risk – such as elder abuse – we are really focused on.”
She gives the example of a neighbor or family member who gets a deed signed over that the client really didn’t want to sign over or wishes they had not.
“We can help with civil remedies,” she says.
These are often very complicated situations, she notes.
There is also, she adds, a Medicare appeals unit.
“I started working with LSE in the Medicare unit and I learned so much!”
Morgan cites Medicaid assistant and Prescription Part D of Medicare as two frequently cited issues.
Sometimes she stumbles on these issues she says, for example, “If I have a client I am helping with an eviction, say, and I find out they got behind because [their] prescriptions have gone up.”
Morgan says they are well trained to deal with often complicated and emotional family situations.
LSE staff attorneys meet with clients, go to court and this costs the client nothing, she says.
“We are all very passionate about what we do. We really protect the rights of the elderly.”
They also handle power of attorney and Advance Care Directives.
They do home visits if the client is homebound or they will meet the client at a the offices of a local agency such as the SAPARS office in Paris.
“We never want transportation to be an issue [for clients getting help].”
She notes that all the agency’s staff attorneys are members of the elder abuse task forces in their respective counties.
LSE also has translators for the blind, deaf and language-challenged.
If someone already has a power of attorney in place, but the POA holder is abusing the privilege, LSE can help get it revoked.
LSE will connect a client with Money Minders, a statewide program which is aimed at helping older adults maintain their independence and peace of mind or if they are being exploited financially.
The Money Minders program matches trained, supervised, bonded volunteers with adults 55 and older who need help establishing a monthly budget and ensuring that all bills get paid in a timely and accurate manner. The program is free for clients who meet low to moderate income and asset guidelines and other eligibility criteria, according to an article in the Bangor Daily News.
Helping clients with imminent foreclosure is another area LSE helps with.
“We want to work with local law enforcement,” adds Morgan noting that often law enforcement knows of elders in bad situations.
“Everything we do is confidential,” says Morgan. “We will go talk with them [and elder abuse victim] and help them get a protection from abuse order and services.”
But, she notes, “we’re here to respect their voice and what they want,” even if it is not the best choice.
LSE will try and help a victim of a scam get their money back and the hotline attorneys can advise on tax issues.
LSE is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit that has been operating for 40 years. LSE funders include state and federal agencies, the Maine Area Agencies on Aging, the Maine Civil Legal Services Fund, the Maine Bar Foundation IOLTA Fund and Campaign for Justice, United Way of Greater Portland, Kennebec Valley United Way, Androscoggin United Way, York County United Way, the Muskie Dinner, and many private individuals, according to its website.
“There is nothing that beats the feeling that you really impacted someone in a positive way at a time of crisis, when everything can be so confusing,” says Morgan. “All we need to know is what they want. If we can’t make it happen we will advise them and they can chose what to do.”
Free legal services
(Civil matters only)
- Protecting money and property
- Homeowner rights
- Tenant rights
- Managing debt
- MaineCare and long-term care
- Income sources and assistance
- Family relationships
- Elder abuse
- Dealing with death
- Age, disability discrimination
- Power of attorney (if no assets)
- Advance directive
What LSE does not handle but can refer to an attorney that does:
- Criminal matters
- Personal injury