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Volunteer Lawyers Project helps seniors know their rights

September 24, 2015 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Attorney Robin Goeman works with the Brooklyn Volunteer Lawyers Project and assists seniors as part of the NGF Senior LEAP program. Here, she is seen talking with seniors from the Vandalia Senior Center in East New York. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese

Preparing oneself for aging isn’t an easy or obvious process, and for certain seniors, it’s not an affordable one, either. However, the Brooklyn Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) has a program called the National Grid Foundation Senior Legal Education and Assistance Program (NGF Senior LEAP) that is designed to help inform and assist seniors to make the preparation as easy as possible.

The program sends volunteer lawyers to senior centers across the borough where they teach the elderly about medical directives and what they can do to protect themselves and their families.

“There are two main ways that we approach planning as adults, and not just for seniors — you need to plan for your financial life and your health,” said attorney Robin Goeman, who has been working with the VLP since 2006. “So I try to help them with free legal advice about documents and plans that people can put in place for themselves.”

As part of the program, Goeman took a trip to the Vandalia Senior Center in East New York last Tuesday and spoke with the seniors there about a number of topics, including wills, power of attorney, health care proxies, living wills and pooled income trust.

“The things I get asked about the most are two sides of the coin — how do I protect my money for my kids and how do I protect my money from my kids,” Goeman said. “They’re kind of one in the same. People have worked very hard for what they have and they want it to go to their kids, but they also don’t quite trust their kids. It’s totally classic.”

While the meeting started out in a room filled with people who may have had varying degrees of interest in listening to a lawyer, as Goeman spoke, many began to turn their heads, realizing her words were valuable and pertinent to them.

“I have a health care proxy for my mother, but I never thought I would need one,” said Elaida Santiago, a 65-year-old from East New York. “After listening to [Goeman], you realize that everyone needs these things and needs to know about them. It’s great that she comes here to teach us about them.”

After a short speech, Goeman walked around the center answering questions and helping people fill out forms. Many inquired about the pooled income trusts, a type of trust that allows seniors to become eligible for public assistance benefits such as Medicaid home care, even if their monthly income exceeds the qualifications.

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“Some of these services they can find out about from social workers, but social workers don’t always understand the legal aspects,” said Goeman. “Many people want to go home and discuss this with their families, but it’s good to get an understanding of what their options are and what is available to them.”

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