As MVLS continues our leadership in helping Marylanders experiencing housing instability, our focus has turned to the unique needs of older adults. For many years, MVLS has been a statewide leader in combatting mortgage and tax sale foreclosure, and in the course of representing these homeowners, MVLS realized that many of them had a deeper problem. Close to 20% of clients seeking tax sale foreclosure assistance were not on the deed to the properties in which they lived, denying them critical supports to preserving their homes, such as the Homeowner’s Property Tax Credit, water credits, and home repair programs. MVLS soon recognized that this was a widespread problem across Baltimore City and throughout Maryland which led us to launch the Advance Planning and My Home, My Deed, My Legacy campaigns.
The Advance Planning campaign educates Marylanders about the need to execute proper estate planning documents so they can pass their most important asset, their home, to the next generation. This program combats generations of wealth extraction from communities of color, many of whom had not engaged in estate planning and had lost their homes to tax sale or foreclosure. The My Home, My Deed, My Legacy campaign builds upon this work and provides pro bono legal services in the areas of estate planning and deed disentanglement to clients who were traditionally denied access to justice. Both of these programs focus heavily on building community partnerships with local nonprofits, community associations, faith-based organizations, and senior centers. These community partners provide insight and guidance on the needs of their communities and partner with MVLS in conducting outreach.
As MVLS delved deeper into keeping older adults and their families in their homes, it became apparent that older adults facing financial hardships are at particular risk for financial exploitation and elder abuse. Older adults often have a small but steady source of income in the form of a social security check, and this unfortunately makes them a prime target for scammers. During the COVID-19 crisis, these scams have only intensified, from theft of economic impact payments, to callers impersonating contact tracers and trying to get financial information. Older adults are also more isolated than ever and at greater risk for physical, emotional, and financial abuse by caregivers and relatives. For many older adults suffering financial hardships, the additional loss of income and assets through exploitation can lead to prematurely entering long-term care facilities when they lose their homes. It is against this backdrop, that MVLS launched our newest program, the Elder Justice Program through Equal Justice Works. MVLS is one of only 16 programs nationwide that were selected to host a fellow, as part of this prestigious program.
Through the Elder Justice Program, MVLS was able to hire a two-year fellow, who will serve older adults who are victims of elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation. They will work on legal issues ranging from estate planning and administration to consumer issues to foreclosure. They will also provide training and resources to internal staff, the legal community, non-legal partners, and the general public. Attorneys are critical in combatting elder abuse. One community partner, Jacke Schroeder, who is the Director of CHANA/SAFE’s Stop Abuse of Elders commented, “In our work with victims of elder abuse, our legal partners are essential. Many attorneys we work with help our clients pursue protective orders, pertinent powers of attorney, divorce, and report financial abuse. No case of elder abuse is alike and we often serve victims facing multiple forms of abuse. We rely on the expertise and commitment of our legal partners to help us fully serve our clients and to navigate the complicated and time-consuming elder abuse cases we see every day.” MVLS is proud to partner with the Stop Abuse of Elders (SAFE) coalition to fight elder abuse.