Pro bono spotlight: Helping a disabled young person stand on solid ground

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  • | 12:00 p.m. May 16, 2016
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Families with disabled children face many challenges.

For low-income families, those challenges can jeopardize the safety and financial stability of the whole family. Those challenges do not disappear when the child becomes an adult.

Guardian advocacy can relieve some of the stress and remove obstacles to consistent care for the disabled family member.

As disabled children become adults, parental status no longer grants legal authority to act on the adult child’s behalf.

With a guardian advocacy judgment in place, the parent is authorized to continue to advocate for his or her child and to help ensure safety and needed health care.

It means the adult child is on solid ground when education, housing and health issues require an advocate.

Pro bono attorney Lisa DiFranza has assisted seven families with guardian advocacy matters in the past two years.

She serves as an expert resource for other pro bono attorneys and developed a guardian advocacy checklist for filing cases in Duval and Clay counties.

DiFranza described her most recent case:

What were the basic facts of your case?

A father was seeking guardian advocacy for his mentally disabled daughter.

What were you able to accomplish for your client?

Simply put, I was able to accomplish his goal. He is now the guardian advocate for his daughter. He now is able to manage his daughter’s affairs to ensure her welfare.

Why was the outcome important to your client?

His daughter turned 18, and unfortunately, her mental disability rendered her unable to fully understand and manage her financial and medical matters.

She doesn’t understand how to make change at a store or talk to her doctor about symptoms and treatment.

The father needed the authority to manage those matters to continue to be able to make sure her living and financial affairs were managed appropriately, as well as her medical needs.

This means discussing medical care with doctors and health-care providers to make appropriate care decisions, manage insurance issues and handle other financial, living and social arrangements.

Why was the experience important to you? What did you gain from the experience?

I can only relate it to my upbringing.

I was raised by parents who were public servants and our house was always a place where people young and old came for comfort, prayer, shelter, clothing and/or food.

We were always packing up items for people who needed them.

There was not a reason –– you just did it because people needed help and we were able to provide and meet that need.

When I was young, our house burned down and the entire community came to our aid, offering clothing and shelter. The return was always greater than what we gave.

I gain more of a sense of community and I feel greatly blessed to be able to provide this type of assistance to those who need help navigating the legal system.

What is the name of your firm?  In what areas do you practice?

My firm is DiFranza Law and I have a general practice, focusing in the areas of estate planning, probate, guardianships, real estate and business law.

What advice do you have for other attorneys considering pro bono involvement?

Do it. There is no description for the great feeling that comes over you like a wave when you see your client after the hearing is over and those letters are in their hand.

Believe it or not, there are so many folks that have never had any experience with the courts or legal system and it is extremely overwhelming and paralyzing to most.

It takes so little effort to make a huge difference in improving the lives of those who need help.

If it is not in your practice area, try it. There are experts to assist you in every step to help you achieve the client’s goals. The required time is minimal but the personal reward is lasting.

There is a need and you have the ability to meet that need. Be a part of your community. You will be so glad you did.

We extend sincere appreciation to DiFranza for her pro bono assistance and the positive difference she makes in the lives of families in need.

Attorneys interested in pro bono opportunities in the 4th Judicial Circuit, both project participation and case representation, are encouraged to contact Para at [email protected].



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