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Margaret Costa and Dori Russ assist residents at Pablo Hamlet.

Pro bono attorneys prepare advance directives for seniors

By Kathy Para, The JBA Pro Bono Committee chairwoman

Local pro bono attorneys, paralegals, and law students gathered Oct. 12 at Pablo Hamlet residential center to serve senior citizens by creating needed advance directives documents.

The advance directives for seniors pro bono project is a quarterly event that provides many area senior citizens with the opportunity to create important legal documents free of charge.

The project is a collaboration of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Florida Coastal School of Law, The Jacksonville Bar Association and the Northeast Florida Paralegal Association.

Pablo Hamlet is a HUD-subsidized senior citizen independent living facility.

The event completed the four events for 2013. As a result of the effort, 60 senior citizens now have advance directive documents in place and ready when needed.

The quarterly events are held in two parts on separate days. On the first day, senior citizens gather for a group information session at which long-time pro bono attorney Pat Vail presents information on the purposes of these important life-planning documents: durable power of attorney, designation of health care surrogate, designation of pre-need guardian and a living will.

Residents who need the documents are encouraged to make an appointment for the second day of the event.

Teresa Swanner, the service coordinator at Pablo Hamlet, played a large role in making the free legal assistance available to the residents. Swanner’s job was to schedule residents for appointments with the attorneys on the second day.

She also was responsible for publicity of the service to the residents, reserving the meeting space and ensuring that residents were prepared for their appointments.

“This service is so very valuable to our seniors,” Swanner said. “Many feel vulnerable. Having a trusted person legally designated to act on their behalf in personal and health matters is one less thing to worry about. They walk a little lighter.”

For the second day of the project, attorneys, notaries, law students and paralegals brought laptops, seals and printers, and created and executed the needed documents for nine senior citizens.

As the attorneys interviewed the residents and offered counsel regarding the documents, paralegals and students composed the documents using the residents’ information gathered on their lifetime planning questionnaires.

The documents were printed, executed and then scanned and archived with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. Residents left their appointments with fully executed documents reflecting their wishes and preferences. 

Participating attorneys at the Pablo Hamlet event included Vail, Robert Morgan, Mike Zima and Dori Russ.

Volunteer paralegals, law students and legal assistants included Marsha Malone, Donna Jones, Margaret Costa, Visalakshi Ramachandran, John Czoschke, Justin Barenberg, Courtney Brown and Donna Hoffman.

Sincere thanks and appreciation are extended to all volunteers and the sponsors of the quarterly events: Mike Jorgensen, senior counsel law; Vicki Joiner Bowers, P.A.; Robert M. Morgan and Associates; The Law Office of Imani Boykin, P.A.; and the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Section of The Florida Bar.

These events offer services that provide a greater sense of security for those who are under-represented. They also bring awareness to the needs of seniors in our own community. Plans are being made for the quarterly events in 2014.

Attorneys who would like information about participating in the advance directives or other pro bono opportunities are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, chairwoman, The JBA Pro Bono Committee at kathy.para@jaxlegalaid.org.

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