Bradenton, FL – Gulfcoast Legal Services (GLS) will expand their life-planning program to Manatee and Sarasota Counties with a generous challenge grant from the Manatee Matches Giving Circle of Manatee Community Foundation coupled with a Community Impact grant from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.
The life-planning program was piloted in Pinellas County through funding from Senior Citizens Services and the Florida Bar Foundation with much success. The program provides low-income seniors with free access to an attorney or paralegal to help them create formal end-of-life plans. These plans ensure that seniors are prepared for incapacity and are safeguarded against exploitation. In Pinellas County, the project has impacted nearly 300 people through direct legal services and outreaches.
A prime example of the individuals assisted through the program are “William” and “Steve.” They have been together for thirty years, but because of federal law, never married or took each other’s last names. Fearing they might be kept from one another in case of an emergency, they looked into power of attorney and healthcare surrogate options. But on their limited social security income, they could not afford a private attorney to draft the necessary documents.
William and Steve were helped by Mishell Brown, senior paralegal for the financial stability unit, who has been with GLS for 38 years. The life planning documents they created with her will ensure their truest wishes are honored at the end of their lives and that they will have the ability to make healthcare decisions for one another when so many same-sex couples do not.
“Losing a parent or spouse is one of the most difficult times in a person’s life. I know because I have lost both. So many people are affected by insufficient life-planning. When a person does not have the proper documents in place, it can become a very complicated and expensive process to take care of affairs. Life-planning documents allow you peace of mind, knowing your family is protected and your wishes are clear and can be carried out.” – Mishell Brown, senior paralegal for the life-planning project.
Currently, services are available in Sarasota County at the Venice Friendship Center once a week thanks to a grant from the United Way of South Sarasota County. With additional funding from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and Manatee Matches, GLS will expand the program to meet with low-income seniors in centers and nonprofits through both counties.
All seniors, regardless of income, need – and deserve – a trusted agent to manage financial matters and to make critical healthcare decisions during times of emergency, illness, or incapacity. Without the proper legal documents in place, however, there is no guarantee who will be making decisions for vulnerable seniors in times of crisis. The life-planning program helps seniors ensure they have a plan in place and their wishes are legally honored.
GLS is thankful to all their funders for helping make access to justice easier for our senior citizens in Pinellas, Sarasota, Manatee, and elsewhere.
*Senior Paralegal, Mishell Brown, at a GLS outreach