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Jax Daily Record Monday, Aug. 8, 201112:00 PM EST

Expanding pro bono services for low-income senior citizens


by Kathy Para

The JBA Pro Bono Committee Chairwoman

Expansion has officially begun in the level of services provided to low-income senior citizens in Duval County.

Building on the current efforts of dedicated Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) pro bono attorneys Pat Vail and Joe Meux, attorneys, paralegals and law school representatives met July 12 at the offices of Akerman Senterfitt to discuss plans for expanding services to low-income senior citizens in Northeast Florida.

The expansion in services will be modeled after the Military Reservists Wills and Advance Directives Pro Bono project that has been offered to Navy and Army reservists at local military facilities.

The Senior Citizen Wills and Advance Directives Pro Bono project will provide a two-day effort by the volunteers.

Day one will include a group information presentation to residents of a HUD-subsidized senior citizen residential center describing the purposes of advance directive documents: Durable power of attorney, health care surrogate designation, designation of preneed guardian, a living will and a simple will.

Day two will include an event at which interested seniors will meet with an attorney to execute the advance planning documents.

The goal of the two-part project will be to provide low-income senior citizens with complete legal services to explain, create and execute advance planning documents.

The project has received a small grant from the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Section of The Florida Bar to purchase a laptop, printer, thumb drives and consumable supplies for the effort.

At the “Day Two” event, a team of an attorney and law student or a team of an attorney and paralegal will meet with a senior citizen. Using a questionnaire completed by the senior prior to the appointment, the team will create the documents, print them out and execute them. A notary public will be present to verify signatures.

The services will help to organize their affairs and by planning ahead, these seniors will protect their rights and make informed decisions about their health care, property and family in the event of their own incapacity or death.

These documents will help ensure that the plans and choices of these senior citizens will be carried out in the case of an emergency.

By helping senior citizens make these choices, the Senior Citizen Wills and Advance Directives Pro Bono project will help provide stability, dignity and comfort to the seniors and their families as they make decisions during end-of-life chapters.

“There has been deep discussion over how to broaden the reach of the advanced directive program by encouraging other lawyers, paralegals and law students to participate as well,” said attorney Pat Vail, who has provided leadership and advocacy for this population.

Vail added that there have been many “willing hands” interested in helping to provide services to seniors, including members of the Elder Law section of The Jacksonville Bar Association, service coordinators at residential centers, Florida Coastal School of Law, the Northeast Florida Paralegal Association and Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.

Anyone interested in participating in this important and worthwhile opportunity should contact Kathy Para, chairwoman, JBA Pro Bono Committee, [email protected] or 356-8371, ext. 363.

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