Where to Find Legal Help When You Can’t Afford an Elder Law Attorney

Laura Herman, Dementia and Eldercare Professional
Added: 06.22.2022
13 minutes read
As a family caregiver to an older loved one, you’ve likely encountered recommendations to consult with an elder law attorney for various reasons. But, what if you can’t afford one?

Attorneys are expensive, typically charging hundreds of dollars per hour for their services. In fact, a recent report revealed that between 40-60% of middle-class families – and a whopping 80% of low-income individuals – can’t afford the legal assistance that they need.

So, what are your options? Luckily, you have several.

Eldercare attorneys cover a wide range of specialties. Let’s start by looking at what elder law attorneys do and then get into how to find legal assistance in these areas on a tight – or non-existent – budget.

What Do Elder Law Attorneys Do?
Elder law attorneys (sometimes called elder care attorneys) assist older adults and their families with a wide range of legal challenges common to the aging population.

Areas in which elder care attorneys specialize include:

  • Estate planning (wills, trusts, power of attorney documents)
  • Advance directives (living will, POA for Healthcare)
  • Social security or disability benefits
  • Guardianship and conservatorships
  • Long-term care planning
  • Medicaid planning
  • Elder neglect and abuse
  • Financial exploitation 
Elder law attorneys tend to be familiar with resources relevant to their clientele and are often skilled at helping seniors and their families navigate difficult decisions inherent in their areas of specialty.

Where to Find Free and Low-Cost Legal Assistance
There are several federal, state, and local programs designed to help low-income individuals with their legal needs.

LawHelp: Individuals with low to moderate incomes can find helpful forms, pro bono programs, and answers to questions about their legal rights at LawHelp.org.

Legal Services Corporation (LSC): A nonprofit organization that provides free legal assistance for Americans with very low incomes. LSC funds legal aid through over 130 independent organizations across the nation – find one in your area.

Other resources you can contact for information about local organizations that provide free or low-cost legal assistance for seniors include:
For People with Legal Questions

The American Bar Association’s ABA Free Legal Answers is a public service clinic in which pro bono attorneys answer legal questions for individuals who live in participating states.

They cover topics such as:
  • Housing
  • Consumer rights
  • Health
  • Disability
  • Civil rights
  • Income maintenance 
Learn more and get started at the ABA Free Legal Answers site. 

For People with Disabilities

Each state has its own Protection and Advocacy Systems and Client Assistance Program, which provides legal assistance for people with disabilities who are experiencing problems with a range of legal issues.

Contact your state’s P&A/CAP agency to find out more.

For Veterans
Veterans can contact their VA Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist to locate legal service clinics or other community resources.

Other veterans legal assistance resources include:

For People Who Need Legal Help with their Pension

Seniors in 31 states have access to free legal assistance for issues concerning their pension, retirement savings, or profit-sharing plans through the U.S. Administration on Aging's Pension Counseling and Information Program

If your loved one doesn’t live in one of their covered areas, they can look for help through PensionHelp America.

For Immigrants
Find a number of legal resources for immigration issues at the ABA’s Federal Resource page.

Other Ways to Locate Affordable Legal Assistance
There’s a lot of potential free or low-cost legal assistance available, although you may have to do a bit of footwork to find them. 

Ask a Lawyer Referral Service
Lawyer referral services listen to your needs, consider your location – and any language, budgetary or other constraints – and recommend a few attorneys who are best suited to help you. 

Look for non-profit referral services, which are unbiased and will reliably direct you to whoever can serve you best. (On the other hand, for-profit referral services are paid by the lawyers to whom they refer clients, so they’re more likely to steer you toward an attorney who’ll pay them for the referral, even if there’s a better choice for you out there.)  

Find a state-by-state list of non-profit lawyer referral services here.

Call the City Courthouse
Try calling your local courthouse for advice. Some offer free assistance for certain matters. Even if they don’t, they can usually point you in the right direction to locate the help your loved one needs. 

Find a Free Consultation
Many lawyers offer free consultations over the phone, and consulting with one who specializes in the type of legal assistance you need can help. Even if their services would ultimately exceed your loved one’s budget, they may be able to suggest an affordable alternative in your area.

Investigate Your Employee Benefits
If you’re employed, talk to your company’s Human Resources department about whether they provide an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that includes legal insurance, support, or services.

Look into Legal Aid
Legal aid lawyers specialize in serving low-income clients and tend to focus on issues such as:
  • Accessing basic necessities (government benefits, Medicaid, health care, housing)
  • Maintaining safety (elder abuse, guardianship, accommodations for disabilities, etc)
  • Economic stability (tax support, consumer protection, unfair debt collection, etc)
Local legal aid offices exist in most areas. Legal aid services are free of charge, but many are limited to those with very low incomes (up to 125% of federal poverty guidelines).
To find your local legal aid office you can search online for “[Your city/state] Legal Aid” or visit LegalAidOffices.com.

Seek Pro Bono Work
Many lawyers volunteer a number of hours each year to help clients who can’t afford to pay for their services – a practice called pro bono work.

To find a lawyer willing to work pro bono visit LawHelp.org or find your loved one’s state listing at the Center for Pro Bono.

Talk to a Law School
Law schools often offer free legal clinics where students (supervised by attorneys) answer questions, offer advice, or might even take on your case for free. 

Find a law school in your state on this list of U.S. law schools.

Turn to Your State Bar Association
Your state bar association can help you locate lawyers who provide pro bono services. Some also sponsor “Ask an Attorney” events, in which your loved one’s legal questions can be fielded at no charge.

DIY Estate Planning and Online Legal Documents
There’s been an influx in online do-it-yourself (DIY) estate planning services popping up over the last few years. Promising a quick, easy and inexpensive alternative to exorbitant attorney fees, it’s easy to understand their draw.

In some cases, DIY estate planning software can be a good option. For example, individuals with very simple estates – and very simple family dynamics – who wish to leave everything to their next of kin can often get by with an online will maker service. 

However, individuals who own real property, have complicated estates, dependents, or complex family systems should consult with an attorney.

Using a DIY Service as a Starting Place Can be a Smart Approach
If you decide to opt for a DIY approach to estate planning, it’s a good idea to run the completed documents by a local lawyer to ensure they’re compliant with state law and that they reflect your loved one’s wishes accurately. 

Although DIY will makers typically claim that their forms are legally binding in all states, it’s not always the case. An overlooked change in law, a typo, or small detail can end up costing the estate thousands of dollars – much more than was ever saved in attorney fees in the first place. 

Furthermore, a living lawyer knows which questions to ask and can offer customized guidance throughout the process, which can really impact the estate’s value (and minimize potential future headaches) when compared to an automated one-size-fits-all approach.

Starting the will online can be smart though – it can save you valuable time in the lawyer’s office, which will minimize any hourly fees. 

Some DIY sites (such as LegalZoom or RocketLawyer) include a consultation with an attorney in your state as part of an estate-planning package. This can be a good compromise that minimizes risk while keeping costs down. 

Legal insurance companies also tend to cover estate planning and include consultation with legal counsel, so signing up for a month of service (or a free trial) can be a financially savvy move.

Find Free Online Legal Planning
There are a few free online planning services out there worth mentioning. For a comprehensive comparison of online elder law services, see Paying for Senior Care’s Best Elder Law Services of 2022

Will Creation, Living Wills, and Durable Financial POAs
DIY sites that are completely free to use include Do Your Own Will and Free Will. Both of these sites can also help you prepare living wills and durable financial power of attorney documents as well.

Advance Directive Documents
Visit Prepare for free, easy-to-use online assistance creating advance directive documents.

Medicaid Planning
For help with Medicaid Planning, read about the Pros & Cons of Public and Private Assistance and use the American Council on Aging’s free service to Find a Medicaid Planner your loved one can afford.

Consider Legal Insurance
Legal insurance (sometimes called a prepaid legal plan) provides access to a network of attorneys who assist clients with many common legal challenges. Phone consultations or specified services are typically included with a small monthly fee, and most companies will offer access to attorneys at discounted rates for non-covered services.

Legal insurance tends to cover issues such as:
  • Estate planning
  • Trusts
  • Wills
  • Taxes 
  • Real estate
  • Traffic tickets
  • Consumer protection
Companies that provide prepaid legal insurance plans include:
Finding Affordable Legal Help is Possible 
Elder law attorneys are experts when it comes to protecting the rights of older adults, resolving disputes and planning for their financial future. However, lawyers can be expensive and many people can’t afford the legal assistance they need. 

Fortunately, there’s a range of resources available for those who need help with legal matters and can’t afford an attorney – you just need to know where to look.