Part of our 2022 Annual Report Impact Series
David Oliver first learned about Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service through an email.
A lifelong Baltimorean, Oliver owns a home in West Baltimore. When the president of his neighborhood association messaged him and his neighbors to share a list of free legal services, he saw that MVLS was providing that help.
That email came in handy about a year later when Oliver realized that he needed to make some changes to his estate planning documents. He called MVLS and reached a member of the outreach team. As Oliver remembers it, he was told that he had called just in time and invited to attend an upcoming My Home, My Deed, My Legacy Clinic.
He did. “And from there, Tim became my representative,” Oliver explained, referring to Tim Chance, MVLS’ Tangled Title Attorney.
MVLS hosts anywhere from four to six of these My Home clinics each year. Clinics provide an opportunity for clients and potential clients, often recruited by their neighborhood associations or other community nonprofits, to meet with MVLS volunteers and staff attorneys for brief advice or for full representation.
While Oliver came to the clinic looking to update just one of his estate documents, Chance was able to prepare a total of four legal documents most common in advance planning: the life estate deed, power of attorney, advance directive, and a will. “We wanted to make sure everything was done correctly,” Oliver explained.
“It’s tricky because people think that once you pass, things go to your next of kin. Which isn’t the case without a lot of red tape and fees,” Oliver added as he described why estate planning appealed to him.
Over the past decade, drawing on lessons learned from our clients and community partners, MVLS has come to understand the important role that legal services, and advance planning in particular, can play in building generational wealth in historically disinvested Black Baltimore neighborhoods. In the West Baltimore neighborhood where Oliver lives, 88% of residents are Black. The median household income is less than $22,000 and 27% of homes are considered vacant or abandoned. In a city with a well-known history of redlining (the institutionalized denial of homeownership based on race), ongoing practices of under-appraising Black owned homes, and where the majority of our clients facing tax sale are Black, MLVS sees an institutional responsibility to act. By providing free help to residents who have tangled titles, are navigating probate or like in Oliver’s case, are doing proactive estate planning, we can make it easier for families to preserve what is often their biggest asset – their home.
“The most rewarding thing is that I got it done. And it’s so peaceful knowing that, if something should happen, my family will inherit what I had,” he concluded.
Thanks to our donors, volunteers, and community partners, MVLS provided estate planning and administration services to 465 clients like Oliver in FY22. You can learn about upcoming community events and clinics, including the next My Home My Deed My Legacy Clinic scheduled for September 29, 2022 here.