By Alicia Doyle

As an estate planning attorney and mediator, Terri Hilliard Olson sees an overwhelming need in the Conejo Valley for legal counsel for seniors and caregivers that is not based on financial need but on need for direction, information and solutions.

“A very successful program is provided in Camarillo at the Wellness and Caregiver Center by members of the bar with the encouragement of the court,” said Olson, of Hilliard Olson Estate Law & Mediation. “We seek to create a similarly successful program on this side of the grade to provide legal and mediation assistance and guidance.”

The Pro Bono Panel of the Ventura County Bar Association and Grey Law and others have provided this service in the community for decades, “but the need is increasing as the number of seniors and their caregivers has increased,” said Olson, a member of Senior Concerns’ board of directors. “We are all partnering to help.”

Starting May 8, Olson will spearhead the Senior Concerns Pro Bono Legal Services Panel for the Conejo Valley and surrounding area. Free legal services will be available the first and third Tuesdays of each month from 1 to 4 p.m. at Senior Concerns in Thousand Oaks.

An open house launching the services will begin at 4 p.m. April 17 at 401 Hodencamp Road in Thousand Oaks. The reservation deadline is Tuesday; call 497-0189.

“Experienced attorneys will volunteer their time to meet with and counsel senior and caregivers, provide direction on end-of-life issues, drafting of essential documents — such as health care directives and powers of attorneys — and the issues related to conservatorships,” said Brenda Birdwell, who provides advocacy for seniors and community outreach.

“Many clients at Senior Concerns want to have their basic legal paperwork in order, such as advance health care directives, durable power of attorney, wills and trusts.

“A common question is how much probate could cost if they have a will but not a trust,” Birdwell said. “We also have more unique client needs that run the gamut, from bankruptcy questions to battling with troublesome neighbors over tree roots and property lines.”

Most clients are intimidated and confused by the legal system, and the majority have income limitations, Birdwell said.

“Having access to a trusted legal resource to assess their situation and address their legal needs will go a long way to alleviate their stress and give them a true assessment of their situation and guide them through addressing it,” Birdwell said.

Every day, the team of advocates and care managers at Senior Concerns hears real-life problems that could have been solved if seniors or their caregivers had gotten the right documents or legal advice, said Andrea Gallagher, president of Senior Concerns.

“The team felt it was a problem that needed to be solved,” Gallagher said. “We began searching for solutions to this growing need and concluded that offering pro bono legal services through Senior Concerns provided the most efficient option for seniors and caregivers in our community.”

Call Senior Concerns at 497-0189 for more information.

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