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Gray Law : A new field of legal specialty addresses pensions, estate planning and other needs of the elderly.

December 26, 1991|ROBYN LOEWENTHAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

". . . in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes."

--Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to M. Leroy (1789)

Ben Franklin may have been a great guy, but he was wrong.

Sooner or later, chances are you will also need to consult a lawyer.

This is especially true for seniors and members of the graying Baby Boom generation who can expect to grapple with pensions, medical benefits and documents to settle their financial affairs.

The increasing need in this area has produced "elder specialists"--a new breed of lawyers who address aging-related legal issues.

"Elder law has been a specialty in poverty law since the early 1920s," said Wayne Moore, program director of Legal Counsel for the Elderly-American Assn. of Retired Persons. "But the new development among private practitioners specializing in elder law only occurred in the last five to seven years."

The need stems from developments in the law and an increase in the number of people affected, Moore said.

Adept elder law attorneys are well-versed in civil, administrative and family law because of the diverse demands of the job; senior clients may be involved in estate planning, probate, guardianship, housing, nursing home issues and perhaps age discrimination cases.

Such attorneys usually can refer clients to a network of social service agencies for assistance with other age-related problems.

In Ventura County, clients age 60 and older can obtain free or low-cost legal advice and assistance from several nonprofit organizations.

The best-known group in the area is Grey Law Inc.

Established in Ventura 12 years ago, it is staffed by volunteers and funded by various area agencies.

"We go to 16 locations and senior centers in virtually every city throughout the county," said Grey Law's director, Michael Williams. "And we're free--so the price is right."

Seniors can call the organization to schedule a one-on-one appointment, Williams said.

As part of Grey Law's outreach program, representatives address community and civic groups on legal topics of interest to older people.

Last week Williams spoke to a senior gathering at Santa Paula Memorial Hospital about living wills, durable power of attorney and how to settle medical-legal affairs.

"He stressed the need to establish your wants prior to any need for hospitalization," said Linda Jordan, hospital community education coordinator. "Mr. Williams also emphasized the importance of providing copies of those documents to any family members who might be involved in decision-making if you are hospitalized."

FREE AND LOW-COST HELP

The following agencies offer free or low-cost legal assistance to area seniors who call for an appointment. For information about on-site legal services, call your local senior center.

* Grey Law Inc., 5755 Valentine Rd., No. 303, Ventura, (800) 794-9464, or (805) 658-2266. Legal representatives visit most community senior centers on a monthly basis. To arrange an appointment, call weekdays 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m.

* Ventura County Bar Assn.--Family Law and Bankruptcy Clinic, 4475-B Market St., Ventura, (805) 653-5252. The Ventura County Bar Assn. Referral Service, at the same address and phone number, offers a $25 half-hour consultation fee and a referral to an attorney specializing in the area of the client's need. Fees for additional services must be negotiated.

* Channel Counties Legal Services Assn., 132 S. A St., Oxnard, (805) 487-6531, and 932 Olive St., No. 2, Santa Barbara, (805) 963-5981, is open weekdays 8:30 a.m. to noon and 1:30 to 5 p.m., to serve residents of Ventura County and the southern portion of Santa Barbara County. English and Spanish are spoken at both sites and Tagalog is also spoken at the Oxnard office. In addition, a staff member is available by appointment on Mondays in Moorpark, at the Catholic Social Services Office, 77 E. 1st Sht., 9 a.m. to noon, (805) 529-0720, and at 165 E. High St., No. 106, 1 to 5 p.m., (805) 529-5463.

* Women's Legal Information Clinic offers assistance in pro bono family law action the second Tuesday of the month, 7 p.m. at the Women's Center (Library Building, Room 241), Moorpark College, 7075 Campus Road, Moorpark. Spanish is spoken. For details, call (805) 378-1492.

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