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Seniors guide offers help on elder issues

Staff Writer

Seniors & the Law: A Guide for Maturing Californians

Seniors & the Law

Where can a senior go, by law, for a free hot meal in any county? Can a senior get a tax break if he or she downsizes to a smaller home? Can seniors legally install grab bars and lowered countertops in their homes over a landlord's objection? Will they lose Social Security benefits if they go back to work? Do they have a special right to keep pets in a rented apartment? And can a senior's children ever be legally required to care for the senior if he or she becomes penniless and bedridden?

The answers to these and many more questions can be found in the State Bar's recently revised Seniors and the Law: A Guide for Maturing Californians. First printed in 2003, Seniors and the Law is a free, comprehensive guide aimed at helping seniors and their grown children make sense of a wide range of law-related issues and rights that affect California's seniors in their day-to-day lives.

With an estimated 5.5 million residents age 60 or older, California is the most senior-populated state in the nation — and the ranks are growing. But so, too, are the many laws related to seniors and the many programs geared for them.

"Most of us would like to stay in charge of our own lives for as long as possible," said attorney Helen Karr, a member of California's Commission on Aging and a senior herself. "This guide helps explain the maze of health care benefits, estate planning tools, specialized programs and resources available to assist us."

In addition, says Karr, who re-searched and helped develop the publication, "the guide addresses many of the ways in which seniors are victimized — through elder abuse, identity theft and various consumer scams. And it offers preventive tips and resources for victims as well."

Seniors and the Law is the third guide in a three-part series published by the State Bar. Each year, on a rotating schedule, the State Bar publishes one of its three guides on May 1, which is Law Day. When You Become 18: A Survival Guide for Teenagers was revised and reprinted last year. Kids & the Law: An A-to-Z Guide for Parents, last published in 2004, will appear again next year.

Since the creation of Seniors and the Law three years ago, more than 1 million copies have been distributed free of charge in six languages — English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalog. (The guide is still available in all but Korean; an updated Korean version will be available this summer.) In addition, some 40 senior forums and events have been held statewide to give seniors an opportunity to further explore the many topics covered in the popular guide and to question experts in various fields.

Funded with a $60,000 grant from the Foundation of the State Bar, this year's guide will be launched at back-to-back senior forums in Long Beach, Riverside, Cathedral City and Coachella (where the forum will be conducted in Spanish). Because May is Elder Abuse month in California, there will be particular emphasis placed on the various forms of elder abuse, from physical to psychological to financial abuse. In addition, the guide is being distributed with the California Bar Journal this month and will be inserted in 270,000 copies of the Senior Life newspaper as well.

Some of the questions addressed in the updated Seniors and the Law include:

  • MAKING ENDS MEET What is a reverse mortgage? Is there any special tax relief for seniors?

  • CHOOSING WHERE TO LIVE Can a younger person live with me in an age-restricted senior housing development? Can my landlord prohibit me from keeping a pet?

  • OBTAINING HEALTH CARE AND BENEFITS Can I get health insurance after my retirement? Do I need long-term care insurance?

  • PLANNING AHEAD How can I help ensure that my affairs will be handled my way if I become incapacitated? What is a revocable living trust?

  • GETTING AROUND Can the DMV simply limit my driving rights rather than revoke my license? Are there any special accommodations for me if I am disabled or unable to drive?

  • HANDLING ELDER ABUSE What should I do if I suspect someone is abusing or exploiting an elderly friend? What can I do to protect myself from an abusive caregiver or spouse?

  • AVOIDING CONSUMER SCAMS How can I avoid being solicited by telemarketers and marketing mail? What is identity theft?

  • GETTING DIVORCED OR REMARRIED Will I continue to receive Social Security benefits as a widow (or widower) if I remarry? Do I need to change my will in order to remove my ex-spouse as a beneficiary? Is it true that I will pay higher taxes if I remarry?

  • RAISING YOUR GRANDCHILDREN Should I seek guardianship of my grandchildren if I am raising them? Do I have any right to visit my grandchildren?

  • FINDING A CAREGIVER OR NURSING HOME How do I find help for my elderly mother who wants to continue living in her own home? Is there any assistance available if I take time off work to care for my ailing mother?

To order Seniors and the Law: A Guide for Maturing Californians, send an e-mail to Include your name, complete mailing address (post office boxes are not acceptable), the preferred number of copies in which languages, and a daytime phone number. If you do not have access to e-mail, you can call 1-888-875-LAWS (5297) for mailing instructions. There is no charge for the guides. However, contributions are appreciated and help support the State Bar's public education program.

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