Expanding Access for Clients: Interstate Referrals to our Senior Legal Helplines

By Mary Haberland, Managing Attorney, Florida Senior Legal Helpline

Last month I asked our helplines group to tell me how each of you respond to applications from out-of-state seniors.  As I noted in my request, seniors – particularly younger seniors – travel and relocate freely between our hotline states, taking their legal problems with them.  Very few of us have staff licensed outside of a few neighboring jurisdictions and often, our clients only need brief advice about issues that arose in their former home state.  Over the years when I’ve called some of your programs to get legal advice for a Florida senior, I’ve gotten a range of responses about how the senior should be referred, from “just have the senior call our number” to “e-mail or fax me your case notes and we’ll schedule the senior for a callback.”

So how should out-of-state seniors receive help with a legal problem in our state, and how much service can we provide?  If your senior has a legal issue in Florida, no referral is required.  The senior may call the Florida Senior Legal Helpline (FSLH) directly for advice about a legal problem that occurred or exists in Florida, and we will provide legal advice and brief services.  However, referrals for extended services will depend upon the county where the senior’s lawsuit or issue is pending.  Unlike some of your states, Florida still has many independent LSC- and non-LSC-funded programs, and not all of these receive Title IIIB funding.  We will make referrals of out-of-state seniors when we’re able to do so, applying guidelines provided by our referral partners.  Since all Florida Legal Services programs use LegalServer as our case management system, when an intrastate referral can be made, the case can be transferred electronically.

In Iowa, Georgia, Vermont and Washington, out-of-state seniors may also call the helplines directly without a referral, and they will receive advice about a legal issue that arose in that state.  Callers to the Legal Hotline for Older Iowans and to CLEAR in Washington must be LSC-eligible, and may be eligible for further services through their referral partners.  Seniors whose income and assets exceed LSC guidelines are referred to the private bar.  The Georgia Senior Legal Hotline, which is part of Atlanta Legal Aid, applies Title IIIB- priority guidelines and will also make referrals to other Georgia Legal Services programs, depending upon the senior’s income and whether the extended service program has IIIB funding.  If services beyond advice are needed, Vermont Law Help will do a full intake or make a referral to partner agencies as appropriate.  Although their hotline is not senior-specific, their staff includes a senior specialist who focuses on problems unique to seniors.

Two responding helplines that take direct calls focus on referrals rather than advice.  The AARP Counsel for the Elderly first attempts to redirect a non-resident senior to one of the many other legal services providers in Washington, D.C. that don’t consider residency.  However, when there is no available option – questions about a reverse mortgage was given as an example – the hotline waives residency on a case-by-case basis.  The Pennsylvania SeniorLAW HelpLine also refers out-of-state seniors to another Pennsylvania agency or organization that may be able to assist them; at this time their program only advises Pennsylvania residents.  However, they are reviewing their procedures and if any of us have a particularly compelling case, we are welcome to contact them directly so they can evaluate the level of service they may be able to provide on a case-by-case basis.

Finally, Keith Morris, Director of the Center for Elder Rights Advocacy, and Mike Walters from Pro Seniors in Ohio also responded to my poll.  Mike wrote a separate article about his program’s practices, which is in this same issue of the Connection.  Keith responded that out-of-state seniors with a Michigan legal problem can call the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors directly, and there are no financial eligibility guidelines.  With regard to referrals after intake, the hotline has a memorandum of understanding with each Michigan provider, detailing when referrals are appropriate and how they should be made.  When a referral is made, hotline cases can be transferred electronically, since all legal aid programs in Michigan use the same PIKA case management system.

If you weren’t able to provide me with a response for this issue, please e-mail me at mhaberland@bals.org, and I will compile your state’s policies for an update in our next issue.  While I appreciate the seven responses I received, there are many more of you out there.  Please tell us about how your program helps out-of-state seniors receive answers to their legal questions.  Thank you!