Advance Directives and Powers of Attorney. An advance directive helps to ensure that your healthcare wishes will be respected if you can’t speak or communicate. It is usually a written, legal document. If you don’t have a written document, you may express your wishes verbally to your family members or healthcare agent. It is wise to have an advance directive in case you become severely injured or ill and cannot participate in decisions about your health and medical care. Living wills and medical powers of attorney are two more types of advance directives.
Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA). This written document authorizes an agent to handle certain types of transactions. General powers of attorney are broad and allow many types of transactions. Conversely, limited powers of attorney are for a specific task. The power of attorney is “durable” because it remains valid even after the person no longer has legal capacity to handle transactions, possibly due to an injury or illness. All powers of attorney executed since 1993 in Pennsylvania are durable unless stated otherwise.
Guardianships. To qualify for a guardian, a person must be impaired in such a way that he is partially or totally unable to manage financial resources or meet essential physical health or safety requirements. Stringent standards apply. A petition must be filed when a guardian is necessary.
Living Wills. Also called a treatment directive, a living will lists your wishes about end-of-life medical treatment. It is used if you no longer have the ability to make decisions or communicate. A living will can be written so as to refuse life-sustaining treatment if the maker is incompetent and either in a terminal condition or a state of permanent unconsciousness.
Medical Power of Attorney. This legal document lets you appoint someone (usually called a healthcare agent or proxy) to make decisions about your medical care. You can create an advance directive at any time and change it whenever you wish. You should share copies with your primary care physician and family. Make sure your family knows where your advance directive is located, and give a copy to your healthcare proxy. For more information on writing an advance directive, visit webMD.com and type “advance directive” in the search box.
Trusts. A trust is similar to a box where you place property, except a person places money in a brokerage or bank account and designates a manager referred to as the “trustee.” The trustee distributes trust assets to the beneficiaries that you select. Your attorney might recommend a trust if you have a large estate, an estate with young beneficiaries or in situations with special circumstances.
Wills. A will is an important legal document and the cornerstone of most estate plans. In a will, you direct how your property is to be distributed and you name a personal representative to administer your estate. The executor collects the estate assets, pays the estate debts and makes distributions to the beneficiaries you have designated. It is generally advisable to nominate one executor and an alternate in your will rather than naming two individuals to serve as co-executors.
Allegheny County Bar Association
400 Koppers Building
436 Seventh Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
ACBA’s website is a good resource for healthcare-related information. A living wills/healthcare power of attorney form can be downloaded for free from visiting acba.org/public/livingwill.
Lawyer Referral Service (LRS)
LRS assists the public in locating lawyers for specific types of legal matters. Clients can be referred by telephone, mail or the Internet. LRS matches potential clients to a member of the Lawyer Referral attorney panel, and the referral entitles you to a free 30-minute consultation.
Christian Legal Aid of Pittsburgh
Christian Legal Aid of Pittsburgh offers free legal advice, guidance and prayer regarding civil and family matters to those in our community whose incomes are at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Visit the website for times and locations of free legal aid clinics.
Disabilities Rights Pennsylvania (DRP)
429 Fourth Ave., Ste. 701
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Disability Rights Pennsylvania protects and advocates for rights of people with disabilities so that they may live the lives they choose, free from abuse, neglect, discrimination, and segregation.
University of Pittsburgh Law School
3900 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
Students are supervised and provide free legal services to low-income adults ages 60 and older and/or clients’ family members. Services focus on advance planning for incapacity (including Powers of Attorney and Living Wills), simple estate planning, guardianship and related matters, Medical Assistance for long-term care, settlement of estates with limited assets/small estates, and grandparenting issues. Students also provide community presentations on elder law issues. Not all cases can be accepted for representation. No walk-ins, by appointment only.
Neighborhood Legal Services Association (NLSA)
928 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
(412) 255-6700 or (866) 761-6572
NLSA’s Elder Law Project provides legal assistance and representation to low income individuals and families who are ages 60 and older who may be victims of physical, emotional or financial abuse. They also assist with living wills, advance directives, healthcare planning and alternatives to guardianship. If you are in need of a will, NLSA will give a referral to a private attorney who will prepare it free of charge. To arrange this, you must sign up at your local DHS/AAA senior center; the NLSA attorneys travel to the senior centers for these appointments.
Other matters in which NLSA provides assistance include:
• Various types of assistance to cli-ents whose DPW benefits (cash, Medical, special allowances, food stamps) are being terminated.
• Disability law issues that arise for those living with disabilities.
• Employment law that addresses disputes in the workplace, such as worker’s rights, sexual harassment, workplace safety, unemployment compensation and the Family and Medical Leave Act.
• Housing issues related to the landlord-tenant relationship, utility assistance and mortgage foreclosure.
• Debt collection issues, sheriff’s sale of personal property and some bankruptcies to preserve essential property.
• Legal assistance to eligible veterans who are having problems with housing, utilities or other issues. family law issues.
Please note: NLSA does not handle criminal matters, property disputes or malpractice issues.
Office of the Public Defender
County Office Building
542 Forbes Ave., Room 400
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Responsible for furnishing competent and effective legal counsel to any person who lacks sufficient funds to obtain legal counsel in any proceeding where representation is constitutionally required.
Pennsylvania Health Law Project
2325 E. Carson St., First Floor
Pittsburgh, PA 15203
PHLP provides free legal services to low-income consumers, seniors and persons with disabilities who are having trouble accessing publicly funded healthcare coverage or services. If you are denied or terminated from enrollment in a publicly funded healthcare program or have a service denied, reduced or terminated, PHLP may provide you with free direct representation on your appeal.
Pennsylvania SeniorLAW Center
SeniorLAW helps to protect the legal rights and interests of seniors 60 years and older by providing free legal services, community legal education, professional training, advice, information and referral services, and advocacy.
Pittsburgh Pro Bono Partnership
The Pro Bono Center of the Allegheny County Bar Foundation connects individuals in need of help with free legal services providers. If your income is low and you have a legal problem, the Pro Bono Center may be able to assist you with advice or referral to the appropriate legal aid provider.