Jody Moss - "Seniors Sunset Times - Clallam County Edition

Legal Services for Older Adults

October 7, 2021

By Janis Housden and Jody Moss, Olympic Area Agency on Aging.

Access to legal services is access to justice.

Everyone needs legal services at some point in our lives. We all encounter issues requiring the counsel of a trained professional, whether it is a will, estate planning, addressing the needs of loved one with dementia, Social Security issues, landlord tenant issues, neighborhood issues, we sometimes need legal aid.

The most frequently avoided legal service is preparing a will. Sixty-eight percent of Americans pass away without a will in place. In these circumstances the state will decide where your property should go; typically, your estate passes to your closest relatives – a spouse first and then to children, then parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, etc., in that order. But that may not be what you had envisioned happening. Perhaps you have a partner, or a close friend, or a loved one not related by marriage that you want your belongings to go to.

Even if you have very little in terms of ownership, a simple will is important to the people you leave behind. A will can address practical issues like indicating that your son or daughter can access your checking account on your death which allows your family to be able to take care of funeral expenses that they may not be able to afford if she must go through a probate process because there is no will.

The attorney may also suggest you consider creating some advanced directives and powers of attorney at the same time – these are documents which describe who will make medical decisions and financial decisions in the event you are unable to do so. Evidence shows that families experience much less stress at the end of life including the person who is dying, when these documents are in place.

While many seniors can afford to pay for these services, others have seen their budgets get tighter and tighter as expenses grow but income does not. Even if you can afford an attorney there are many steps you can take yourself which may help you avoid deeper expenses or prepare documents in advance of meeting with an attorney, so the time spent, and cost is reduced. Read on to the Self Help section.

Olympic Area Agency on Aging (O3A) Legal Services Program is designed to provide advice by an attorney and is funded by the Older Americans Act. The focus is on socially and economically challenged individuals 60 years of age or better, who are experiencing civil (not criminal) legal problems. O3A’s Legal Services Program may often be the only way for some seniors to obtain trained legal help. The program allows for legal advice, brief legal services such as phone calls, letters, and document review.

There are three components to O3A’s Legal Services Program:
• Individual contracts with local attorneys.
• A contract with Northwest Justice Project as a Washington State Legal Services Corporation.
• A contract with Northwest Justice Project for Tribal Estate Planning.

Senior Legal Advice Clinics
Many years ago, O3A was fortunate to have developed a unique partnership with attorneys who live and work in the communities we serve. This legal service access program is referred to as the Senior Legal Advice Clinics or “SLAC”.

Local attorneys are contracted to provide the civil legal services that many economically challenged older adults may need. The distinctiveness of this program allows for these older adults to receive in-person (or now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a choice and combination of in-person and virtual) legal services in their own community.

Legal “clinics” are scheduled by O3A’s Senior information & Assistance staff and are held at any one of O3A’s offices for the convenience of the older adults. This is also convenient for the local attorney and respectful of the attorney’s time, in that initial 30-minute meetings with clients are scheduled back-to-back, once, or twice a month, every month. On average, each clinic serves 4 to 6 older adults. This location arrangement provides the additional advantage to the attorney and for the client of having access to any of our Senior Information & Assistance offices’ staff and resources. Over the next several years, as our aging population grows, we may see an increase in SLAC clinics, and will continually assess the need to add more attorneys to the SLAC panel as the Older American Act funding allows.

Much of the SLAC legal assistance is provided in estate planning, power of attorney, and will preparation. Our SLAC program works efficiently to assist those individuals with the greatest need, yet we do not prohibit any attorney from providing any form of civil legal assistance to an eligible client for them to remain in their own homes and have peace of mind that their estate matters are fully addressed.

Not all legal matters are eligible for addressing through a SLAC clinic. Criminal law, family law are not handled by this program, and if the matter is more complicated than can be addressed in a shorter legal session it may be referred elsewhere. The Information and Assistance staff at each of O3A’s offices will screen callers and will refer callers for other help if needed.

The SLAC Clinics are free to seniors who are 60 and better and are intended to serve those who are economically challenged. O3A is fortunate to have developed a compassionate panel of attorneys who are more than willing to provide services to our aging population under these terms and conditions.

Some of our attorneys and/or their partners engage in organizational representation of elder citizens’ groups and coalitions who work on priority areas of the law and on issues and advocacy affecting low-income seniors. Many of the attorneys in our SLAC panel of attorneys have a passion to help older adults and have contracted with us for many years. One of our attorneys stated, “this is my favorite part of my job”.

Northwest Justice Project as a Washington State Legal Services Corporation.
Northwest Justice Project has received the federal Legal Services Corporation (LSC) contract. As an LSC, Northwest Justice Project is the highest tiered provider of legal services meeting the federal guidelines and standards required to be recognized as Washington State’s LSC. Northwest Justice Project serves all low-income seniors, 60 or better and provides intake services and screening nationwide.

O3A contracts directly with Northwest Justice Project which allows for referrals to their Coordinated Legal Education Advice and Referral for *Seniors toll free number, referred to as “CLEAR*Sr” – 1-888-387-7111. Our Panel of SLAC attorneys may refer for special areas of civil representation and referrals can also be made by our Senior Information & Assistance staff. For our PSA, Northwest Justice Project has offices in Port Angeles, and Aberdeen.

O3A continues to annually contract with Northwest Justice Project for a set amount. Quite often, Northwest Justice Project serves our clients above and beyond their contract amount. They receive other federal funding to continue their ability to serve all older adults as needed.

Self Help
The Northwest Justice Project has an incredible website with many steps you can take on your own including the forms to do so: This includes services for more than senior issues. There are webinars, and topic related videos you can watch about legal issues and instructions that walk you through how to complete many different forms. Under “Self Help” there is a section for “60+ Seniors.” Located in that section you can create your own simple will, step by step, and then learn what to do to make the will official. If all this seems confusing, you can also call the CLEAR*Sr Hotline to get advice. CLEAR*Sr phone lines are open from 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., Monday through Friday. Warning – sometimes the wait on hold may be long so grab a book, a crossword puzzle or something else to do while you wait. 1-888-387-7111

Eviction Help (
The federal eviction moratorium has now been extended to October 31, 2021. The Norwest Justice Project website has information in a section called Eviction Defense Helper. From the website: “If you are behind on rent and want protection from eviction, you must send your landlord a declaration about your financial hardship. To see if you qualify for protection under the federal eviction moratorium, read the Declaration form. If you qualify, sign it and deliver it to your landlord.” There is much more information to help you know your rights on this topic on the website.

Currently, there is rental assistance available and Northwest Justice suggests that rather than wait and worry, you use this extra time to apply for help. In Clallam and Jefferson, Olympic Community Action Programs is providing rental assistance. Because this is expected to be a hugely significant issue once the moratorium expires, O3A urges you to address this issue now.

Northwest Justice Project for Tribal Estate Planning
O3A also contracts with Northwest Justice Project to exclusively serve the estate and health planning needs of tribal elders, age 55 or older. O3A has the highest number of Tribal Nations of any other AAA in Washington state with eight tribe in our region.

Estate planning for tribal elders involves a unique understanding of Tribal Sovereignty. Tribal law is notably distinct from federal Indian law. Whereas federal Indian law concerns the relationship between federal, state, and tribal governments, tribal law is the law tribes, or Tribal Nations, develop and apply to their members and territories. Most of the work Northwest Justice Project expertly provides includes drafting Wills, Power of Attorney, and Health Care Directives.

Legal Services During the Pandemic
When the pandemic began, the SLAC program transitioned to a remote service, managed mostly by telephone with in-person, masked and distanced meetings only for signing documents. This has turned out to be a preferred model for some of our attorneys and clients and as Washington State reopens, this program will continue in a mixed model.

Jody Moss is the Director of Contracts Management & Planning for the Olympic Area Agency on Aging and Janis Housden is Contract Specialist – both can be reached at 360-379-5064.

To schedule an appointment at a SLAC Clinic or for help with senior or adults with disability questions call Information and Assistance at 360-452-3221 in Clallam and 360-385-2552 in Jefferson.