SENIOR CENTER INITIATIVE (SCI)
Thomas C. Wendt
Chief Legal Officer
Center for Disability & Elder Law
79 West Monroe Street
Chicago, Illinois 60603
Telephone: (312) 376-1880
Facsimile: (312) 376-1885
Founded in 1984 by the Young Lawyers Section of the Chicago Bar Association, the Center for Disability & Elder Law (CDEL), a 501c (3) not-for-profit legal services organization, has dedicated itself to serving the needs of low-income elderly residents and persons with disabilities, some of Chicago and Cook County’s most deserving and most underrepresented residents. For over a quarter of a century, CDEL has provided pro bono assistance to tens of thousands of individuals marginalized by poverty, disability and/or age. Each year, the dedicated staff and volunteers of CDEL serve the needs of these most deserving clients through direct representation, outreach presentations, trainings and other assistance.
OVERVIEW OF SCI
The Senior Center Initiative (SCI) brings CDEL staff and volunteer attorneys to senior citizens independent residence facilities across Chicagoland to prepare Illinois Statutory Short Form Powers of Attorney for Health Care and Illinois Statutory Short Form Powers of Attorney for Property, as well as Illinois Living Will Declarations. Powers of Attorney are Advance directive documents that allow an individual, known as a “principal,” to appoint an attorney in fact, know as an “agent,” to make health care and/or property and financial decisions on principal’s behalf that the principal would make if he or she had the capacity to do so. The Statutory Short Form Powers of Attorney are set by Illinois state statute through the “Illinois Power of Attorney Act,” 755 ILCS 45. An Illinois Living Will Declaration is a document through which a declarant states his/her intention not have life sustaining treatment in the event the declarant have an incurable and irreversible illness judged to be a terminal condition and that death is imminent but for certain “death-delaying” procedures. The Statutory Illinois Living Will Declaration is set by statute through “Illinois Living Will Act,” 755 ILCS 35.
OBJECTIVES OF THE SCI
The objectives of the SCI Program are two-fold. First, the SCI Presentations are designed to raise awareness of CDEL and the services CDEL provides to low-income seniors, highlighting, in particular, CDEL Advance Directive and estate planning services. Second, the SCI Workshops are designed to provide low-income seniors access to pro bono attorneys in order to draft these important Advance Directives. Furthermore, it provides CDEL volunteer attorneys the opportunity to give something back to the community and to provide pro bono services to seniors in a discrete initiative, without creating a long term commitment to an individual client.
In addition, CDEL has witnessed an increase of elder financial abuse in recent years. Elder Financial Abuse is the economic exploitation of seniors. One of the primary forms of elder financial abuse is Power of Attorney fraud. The Illinois Abuse and Neglect Act (320 ILCS 20) defines exploitation of a senior’s financial resources as a form of elder abuse. The perpetrators of Elder Financial Abuse, frequently members of one’s own family, take advantage of a senior’s gullibility or ignorance and exploit the senior for the perpetrator’s pecuniary gain. In a typical scenario, the perpetrator will trick, coerce or fraudulently induce a senior into signing a Power of Attorney for Property, providing access to the senior’s bank accounts and other assets. The perpetrator pilfers the senior’s property, generally without the senior’s knowledge. The agent under a Power of Attorney has a fiduciary duty to act in the interest of the principal and Power of Attorney fraud is a violation of the Power of Attorney Act, as well as the Abuse and Neglect Act and multiple other statutes. However, once the damage has been done, it is often difficult to resolve the situation. The best way to combat Power of Attorney fraud is through prevention and that prevention is one of the objectives of the SCI Program.
Through the education of seniors, CDEL seeks to help prevent elder abuse from happening, by informing seniors about the dangers of elder financial abuse, and, in particular, Power of Attorney fraud. Seniors are provided samples of the documents, to help familiarize themselves with the documents and what to look out for when presented with a Power of Attorney from someone who the senior would not ordinarily choose as an agent. CDEL wants to ensure that, should a senior choose to have the documents drafted at the workshop, that the senior picks an agent they can trust and rely upon to serve as agent in the principal’s interest. It is important that the senior have sufficient time to decide on an agent and speak to the agent, to make sure that the proposed agent is ready, willing and able to serve as agent, should they be called upon to do so. At the SCI Workshops, seniors have the opportunity to sit down with an attorney and draft the documents to their specifications, and pick the agent of their choosing, free from the fraud, coercion and undue influence that stand at the heart of so many cases of elder financial abuse.
CDEL focuses on independent senior residence facilities and senior activity centers in order to ensure that the seniors that are being provided the documents are those seniors for whom they are appropriate. One of the primary requirements for any individual to execute a Power of Attorney is that the individual must have legal capacity to execute the documents. This may seem obvious, but it is critically important. If an individual lacks the capacity to appoint an agent to act on his/her behalf, the appointment is ineffective. In addition, as mentioned above, one of the philosophies behind the SCI program is to assist people to help protect their rights while they still have the ability to do so and to assist seniors avoid becoming victims due to fraud or coercion. For these reasons, CDEL does not currently conduct SCI workshops at nursing homes or long term assisted living facilities, as the residents of these facilities often lack the capacity to execute the documents. As the SCI program progresses, it may be possible to extend the SCI workshop into these facilities, assisting the residents who have capacity with Powers of Attorney, and providing guardianships to those who have lost capacity. This expansion of the SCI model will allow CDEL to provide a more complete package of services to seniors and to the residence facilities.
ADMINISTRATION OF THE SCI
The administration of the SCI workshops consists of three primary steps: 1) Educational Outreach Programs, 2) Scheduling and Training, and 3) Conducting the workshops.
For the Educational Outreach Program portion of the SCI, CDEL staff attorneys travel to low-income senior citizens’ residence facilities to conduct educational outreaches, teaching the residents of the facilities about CDEL and its services, in particular Powers of Attorney. Through the educational outreach portion of the SCI, CDEL staff attorneys seek to increase the awareness among the senior citizen community of CDEL and the many services CDEL provides. CDEL produces a series of flyers and educational handouts to supplement the speaking engagements. The handouts provide useful information about powers of attorney and serve to reinforce the importance of having Advance Directives in place.
It is through this direct contact with CDEL’s core constituency and the presence at the senior residence facilities that CDEL is able to attract new clients for service. Frequently, the service coordinators at the facilities will refer their residents to CDEL for services unrelated the SCI Program. This increases CDEL clientele and allows CDEL to serve an ever greater number of seniors in need of legal services.
For the Scheduling and Training portion of the SCI, CDEL coordinates with residence administrators and volunteer attorneys to schedule a return to the site to conduct the workshop. CDEL staff and select volunteers contact the senior residence facilities and senior service centers to schedule both the educational speaking programs and to schedule the workshops. Often, CDEL partners with a law firm or corporation counsel in order to recruit volunteer attorneys and paralegals. Prior to returning to the Senior Center, CDEL hosts an accredited, free MCLE presentation to provide volunteer attorneys training on Powers of Attorney and Living Wills, and, in particular, their use for the seniors in the SCI workshops. At the MCLE presentation, CDEL Chief Legal Officer, Thomas Wendt trains attorneys (and non-attorneys who participate in a support capacity at the SCI workshops) about the SCI program, how it began and the philosophy behind the SCI workshop. In addition, the statutory forms are reviewed, including step-by-step directions on filling out the documents at the workshop. Again, since Powers of Attorney (both for property and healthcare) are utilized for many different reasons, some attorneys who may be familiar with them may be provided a fresh insight into the utilization of these documents for purposes of Advance Directives. Mr. Wendt has conducted these presentations at various law firms, the Chicago Bar Association and at CDEL’s office.
At the workshop, residents meet one on one with CDEL volunteer attorneys, where the attorneys consult with residents, explain the documents in detail to the residents and draft the documents. Since the documents are based upon the statutory forms, drafting the documents generally consists of completing the forms and customizing the forms to the specifications of the clients. The documents are then witnessed, notarized, copied and presented to the senior, with CDEL and its law firm and corporate partners providing the notaries and paralegals to serve as witnesses.
The SCI Workshop concept has proven to be very successful and there is a demonstrated need for expansion of the program. It goes without saying that the Workshop is a positive experience for the seniors as they receive these very important legal services and legal documents at no expense and in an efficient manner. It is a positive experience for the senior residence facilities, as they are able to schedule an activity that provides a much needed service in a single afternoon and chance for their residents to meet with a pro bono attorney. It is a positive experience for the law firms and attorneys, as the SCI Workshop provides the opportunity for pro bono work in a discrete workshop, as well as the opportunity to receive MCLE credit. It is a positive experience for CDEL, as it provides CDEL with the opportunity to provide service to a large number of seniors and is an incredibly efficient use of CDEL resources. In addition, it allows CDEL to reach more potential clients, seniors who in most instances are unaware that there exists a legal service dedicated to and uniquely focused on assisting seniors with their legal matters.
The reaction to the SCI Workshops has been overwhelmingly positive, from both clients and attorneys. In 2008, the number of workshops swelled to twenty-one (21) workshops. In 2009, CDEL conducted over fifty (50) workshops, with approximately the same number scheduled in 2010. In total, CDEL has assisted approximately 1600 clients in SCI workshops from 2008 to the present.
In sum, given that every low-income senior citizen in Chicagoland should have Powers of Attorney, the target market for CDEL’s SCI Workshops is practically limitless. In its third year of existence, the SCI Workshops have proven so successful already that other organizations are seeking the assistance of CDEL in order to extend the reach of the program.
Even at this early juncture in the SCI Workshop history, CDEL has partnered with a number of law firms (including, but not limited to: Baker & McKenzie, Kirkland & Ellis, Winston & Strawn, Sidley & Austin, Troutman Sanders, Brinks Hofer and Foley & Lardner) as well as corporate counsel (such as Exelon Corporation, Accenture, AT&T, FTI Consulting, Caterpillar Corporation, Bank of America and AON Corporation) to supply attorneys for the SCI Workshops. As described below, CDEL organizes the events, conducts free CLE training for the attorneys, coordinates logistics and provides supervision at the Workshops. The SCI Workshop provides a tremendous opportunity for law firms to partner with their corporate clients, other firms and related organizations to provide these services in an efficient and enjoyable manner. The SCI Workshops are also a great way to have non-attorneys (paralegals and notaries) participate in providing pro bono services, as non-attorneys serve as intake coordinators, witnesses, notaries and support personnel at the Workshops.
In addition, CDEL is currently working with the Senior Lifestyle Corporation’s Senior Suites of Chicago, other independent Senior Residences, Center for Working Families, the Veterans Rights Bureau of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and the Midwest Asian American Center to provide venues for the SCI Presentations and Workshops.
The original assumption that provided the impetus for the SCI Workshops was that all competent adults should have Powers of Attorney or other Advance Directives. In particular, low-income seniors have a specific need for these important Advance Directives, as they may not have the funds or the need for a full estate plan. In addition, CDEL has witnessed an increase of elder financial abuse. Elder Financial Abuse is the economic exploitation of seniors. One of the primary forms of elder financial abuse is Power of Attorney fraud. The Illinois Abuse and Neglect Act (320 ILCS 20/2) defines exploitation of a senior’s financial resources as a form of elder abuse. Through the education of seniors, CDEL seeks to help prevent elder abuse from happening, by informing seniors about the dangers of elder financial abuse, and, in particular, Power of Attorney fraud. At the SCI Workshops, seniors have the opportunity to sit down with an attorney and draft the documents to their specifications, free from the fraud, coercion and undue influence that stand at the heart of so many cases of elder financial abuse.
For low income seniors, there were no services currently serving this need on a wide spread basis. It is incumbent upon us all in the legal industry to provide the most effective legal service possible and the SCI provides these services in a practical and cost-efficient manner. Through the use of CDEL staff and volunteer attorneys providing the SCI Presentations and CDEL volunteer attorneys providing the human capital for providing the services at the SCI Workshops, the SCI fulfills both prongs of CDEL’s mission statement as well, or better, than any other program CDEL has developed. The implementation of the SCI concept demonstrates the effectiveness of the concept and the tremendous response CDEL has received from the core audience, senior citizens and senior residence facilities, as well as from other organizations, demonstrates the tremendous potential for the program.
The long term aspiration of the SCI Workshops is to provide a demonstrated and proven platform upon which CDEL can expand the workshop concept in the future. CDEL has a number of concepts that may lend themselves to the workshop format. However, prior to expanding the program to include other legal services, CDEL aims to fully implement the SCI Workshop in order to develop its relationships with the senior centers. With your participation and assistance, CDEL will be able to achieve its goals.
“The SCI project at CDEL is an ideal program for firms that are seeking an opportunity to mobilize a group of volunteers for a coordinated day of representation that is rewarding and interesting. It may be the best client-partnering project I have encountered. CDEL will tie it all for you (with or without a bow) by providing a brief and concise training, organizing the travel logistics, and ensuring client participation. Winston did this with a major client with all participants satisfied and ready to do it again.”
Greg McConnell, Esq.,
Director of Public Interest Law
Pro Bono Counsel
Winston & Strawn LLP
“Our firm recently participated in a day clinic providing basic estate planning documents to a group of low-income military veterans as part of CDEL's Senior Center Initiative (SCI)/POA Workshop. CDEL approached our firm with a thorough and thoughtful proposal that presented the opportunity to help this deserving population execute important legal documents side-by-side with in-house counsel from Aon Corporation. CDEL also arranged to have attorneys present from the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago's Veterans' Rights Project and the Illinois Attorney General's Office to give the volunteers a primer on veterans' rights issues and to help screen the veterans for service-connected disability claims. CDEL took care of all the details to make the day go smoothly, from providing all of the training, on-site professional guidance, and legal forms, to coordinating client turnout and arranging transportation. The day went flawlessly and all of our attorney volunteers enjoyed the experience tremendously.”
-Emily Wexler, Sidley Austin LLP
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
January 16, 2009
Elder law center offers 'bite-sized' pro bono program
By Jerry Crimmins
Law Bulletin staff writer
The Center for Disability & Elder Law has come up with a one-day 'bite-sized' pro bono program to help the elderly, and CDEL says the program has growing appeal for lawyers.
More than 100 volunteer lawyers took part in this program in 2008, according to Michael T. Roth, executive director of the Center for Disability & Elder Law.
Winston & Strawn LLP lawyers took part in 2008 as did lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis LLP; Holland & Knight LLP; Sidley, Austin LLP; Baker & McKenzie LLP; Aon Corp; Exelon Corp., and Bank of America.
CDEL is signing up lawyers for six more one-day programs in January and February.
For each bite-sized pro bono event, CDEL trains the volunteer lawyers to draw up three sets of documents for needy seniors: powers-of-attorney for health care, powers-of-attorney for property, and living wills.
CDEL also provides free credit for continuing legal education for that training and malpractice insurance for the pro bono events.
CDEL helps transport the attorneys and some volunteer staff members who are notaries to a senior citizens center to meet pro bono clients interested in possibly executing such documents with a lawyer, Roth said.
For Winston & Strawn attorneys, the program turned out to be a good way to work alongside the attorneys of one of the law firm's clients, Bank of America, said Gregory A. McConnell, pro bono director for Winston & Strawn.
Law firms have been striving in recent years to work cooperatively with client attorneys on pro bono projects, McConnell said.
On Nov. 13, about 10 Winston attorneys partnered with 10 attorneys from Bank of America led by Associate General Counsel Mary Rose Gage, according to McConnell and Roth.
Roth said the group helped senior citizens at Roseland Manor.
In this way, law firm lawyers 'get an opportunity to grow their business by networking with general counsel at the client firm or corporation they want to work with,' Roth said.
Twenty-five lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis took part in this pro bono project in 2008 over two different days in November and December, said Terrence J. Dee, litigation partner at Kirkland & Ellis.
Dee said the program is 'terrific' for three reasons.
First, lawyers are able to help vulnerable, low-income seniors obtain 'absolutely necessary' legal documents that are simple for lawyers but that the pro bono clients might not be able to get otherwise.
Second, Dee said, for corporate lawyers the program provides an unusual chance to work with a client one on one 'on a very personal level.' The seniors are grateful, and 'our lawyers have found working with seniors extremely satisfying.'
Third, 'This is an excellent program for lawyers that … have time issues and can't afford' to take on open-ended pro bono matters, like a criminal appeal, Dee said.
'It is a discrete, scheduled afternoon … with no carry over.… At the end of it there won't be any other commitment absent you want to do it again on a different afternoon.'
Thomas C. Wendt, chief legal officer of CDEL, said the lawyers' assistance to the seniors can help prevent 'one of the most frequent causes of elder financial abuse … by which dishonest people, through fraud or coercion, trick or defraud seniors into … effectively signing away their rights.'
CDEL trains the lawyers for this project at their own law firms or at its Corboy & Demetrio Legal Education Center. Law students with 7-11 licenses can also participate.
CDEL continues to seek more volunteer lawyers. For January and February, it has six of these events planned so far, as follows: Wednesday (Jan. 14) at Buford Walker Senior Housing, 17725 Arcadia Ave., Lansing; Jan. 20, at Drexel Square Apartments, 810 E. Hyde Park Blvd.; Jan. 21 at Senior Suites of Hegewisch, 13550 S. Avenue O; Jan. 28, at West Point Plaza, 300 S. Damen Ave.; Feb. 11 at Winwood Apartments, 1406 W. Winona St.; and Feb. 17 at Kingston Place, 7435 S. Kingston Place.
Article: Chicago Lawyer Magazine – “Senior Support”
By Josh Wolff
Despite the rigors of their own work, about 30 Kirkland & Ellis associates, summer associates, and partners dedicated an afternoon to help low-income seniors.
On July 1, the Center for Disability and Elder Law (CDEL) hosted its largest-ever Senior Center Initiative. About 50 low-income seniors attended the event at the 7th District Police Station.
Kirkland attorneys were matched up with seniors and they conducted basic interviews to assess each senior’s needs. Once the needs were determined, the attorneys assisted in the documentation process, including powers of attorney for healthcare and property, as well as living wills.
To be eligible for CDEL’s services, the attendees met three criteria. First, they were at least 60 years old or living with a permanent disability. Second, they reside in Cook County, and lastly, they must have reported a “household income less than or equal to 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines,” the CDEL website states.
Terrence J. Dee, a litigation partner at Kirkland who also manages its pro bono program in Chicago, said these events are tremendous because of the convenience for both the attorneys and seniors. The assistance is completed within an afternoon, but the work has long-lasting results, he said.
“It’s vital to help these senior citizens,” he said. “Our work gives them protection against people who might want to take advantage of them. It gives them peace of mind.”
Kirkland has participated in several similar events with CDEL since October 2008, and about 100 Kirkland attorneys have been involved.
“It’s been enormously successful and extremely rewarding for the attorneys,” Dee said. “It’s added a personal touch to their practice, and our work provides a valuable service to vulnerable low-income seniors.”
Dee said he hopes to continue building on the successful partnership between CDEL and Kirkland by involving more attorneys. He said the strongest recruiting tool is simple word of mouth. Dee said he is confident that more people will continue donating their time to pro bono work after hearing about the experiences of other attorneys.
“[Our attorneys’] responses has been very positive; they find the work extraordinarily satisfying,” he said. “The seniors are very grateful for the assistance we provide them. Each of the attorneys recognizes the impact they have had on these peoples’ lives. It’s a very simple act that has enormous results.”
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