September 2014 Bar Bulletin
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September 2014 Bar Bulletin

Gray on Gray:

Handbook Helps Seniors with Transition, Legal Issues

By Anne Bradley Counts


Legal Voice is a Washington nonprofit organization focused on justice for women and girls. Its efforts include appellate litigation, legislative advocacy and development of materials to help individuals understand their rights in the legal system.

Starting in 2007, some 90 Legal Voice volunteers, including lawyers, paralegals, employees of other nonprofit agencies and interested community members, took on a novel challenge - they developed a handbook for seniors, their families and their caregivers, with a particular focus on lower-income individuals.

The handbook presents information on more than 40 legal issues that a senior citizen might face: everything from consumer scams to reverse mortgages, to planning for illness or death. Each section includes a list of resources on the issue, including consumer publications and phone numbers/online links for individualized assistance. And it's all written in simple, 8th-grade-level English.

The book, Handbook for Washington Seniors: Legal Rights and Resources, is available from Legal Voice for $10 for the 250-page printed version or $5 for a CD version. And this year we've started a special outreach program aimed to connect directly with the seniors, family and caregivers who make up our handbook audience.

I think of it as our "Gray on Gray" program, because most of the audience is gray-haired 70-somethings, and so am I. After 10 years of retirement from legal practice, and nine years as a Legal Voice volunteer, I'm now working as the attorney trainer for Legal Voice.

With Joan Schrammeck, Legal Voice's outreach coordinator, I visit local retirement homes, senior centers or community centers. There I introduce the Handbook and present an example of its contents - a summary of the materials on planning for old age, disability and death, and what happens after you die. We've done presentations in Seattle, Stanwood/Camano and Bellingham/Ferndale so far, with at least four more presentations planned for both eastern and western Washington before the end of the year.

Our reception so far has been great. Audiences ranging from 15 to 30 people are enthusiastic to learn and to contribute their own experiences. It's clear that there's a real need and interest, especially in the subjects of end-of-life planning and what happens after death.

One pair of conversations I recently had exemplifies this. After our morning session, a middle-aged woman explained to me that her arthritic mother and her father, who suffers from dementia, still lived on the family farm. When she tried to raise the issue of moving, her mother refused to discuss the matter.

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