DPHHS provide Legal Document Clinics

DPHHS provide Legal Document Clinics

The confusion surrounding Powers of Attorney (POA) and Guardianships is a major cause of financial exploitation, as well as a vehicle through which Montana’s seniors are being exploited. And, according to state health department experts, a major reason for senior exploitation in Montana is the lack of knowledge of estate planning documents such as POAs.

To help address these and others related issues, the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) is hosting legal document clinics. The Kelly Moorse Memorial Legal Document Clinics are a series of estate planning clinics repeated throughout the year. The clinics are sponsored by the DPHHS Legal Service Developer Program and the Senior Financial Defense Grant through the Montana Board of Crime Control.

The clinics are comprised of training for community professionals to learn how to screen for senior exploitation. There are additional sessions where legal professionals from around the state offer pro bono estate planning and other legal services to seniors 60 years and older, as well as to any enrolled Montana tribal members.

“Our overarching goal is to serve victims of senior financial exploitation, train legal and aging professionals, and find innovative ways to reach remote and isolated seniors,” said DPHHS Director Sheila Hogan said. “The clinics are one method we use to reach and identify senior victims of exploitation.”

A major reason for senior exploitation in Montana is the lack of knowledge of estate planning documents like POAs, Guardianships, and Health Directives.

“Those exploiting seniors often use a POA to control a senior’s entire life, even though the document does not legally grant them this ability,” said Katy Lovell, DPHHS Legal Services Developers Program Director.

During the clinics, staff and volunteers not only educate seniors, but also financial, healthcare, and law enforcement professionals on what POAs do and do not allow. The clinics present an important opportunity to reach seniors and communities and provide an access point to report and disclose financial exploitation, abuse and neglect.

Lovell said due to high interest, the Billings clinic was expanded from two to three days. Lovell said. “I think this really shows there is a high need for this service, and we’re proud to be providing it to Montana citizens.”

At the clinics, seniors are able to complete estate planning documents with volunteer legal professionals in collaboration with DPHHS Aging Services staff.

Earlier this year, clinics were held in Hamilton, Glasgow, Hardin, Wilsall, and Libby. To date, 144 people have attended the clinics in 2019. The program this year completed over 100 wills and 230 POAs.

Lovell said elder abuse is widespread. Every year an estimated 1 in 10 older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation. And that’s only part of the picture: Experts believe that elder abuse is significantly under-reported. National research suggests that as few as 1 in 44 cases of elder abuse come to the attention of authorities.

DPHHS Adult Protective Services (APS), covers all 56 counties across Montana. In 2019, APS received over 11,000 calls for services for the elderly and disabled population. Of these cases; 2,453 were for some level of abuse, 2,486 for neglect and 1,599 for financial exploitation. APS has assisted 4,300 citizens with information and referrals to services in their local communities and provided protective services to 154 individuals.

In addition, APS has taken on the role of Guardianship for 124 individuals who did not have any family support or protection.

For more information on the clinics and other services for seniors, visit: https://dphhs.mt.gov/SLTC/aging/legalservicesdeveloper