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IBA: Pro Bono Standing Committee Expands Low Asset Will Program for 2013

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By Sara B. Valenzuela, Kiefer & Valenzuela LLP

Amy is a 46-year-old single mother. She and her 10-year-old son Ben live in a modest home. Amy makes $34,000 a year as an administrative assistant. After years of dealing with her husband’s substance abuse, Amy discovered he was having an affair. She filed for divorce and obtained primary custody of Ben. Amy receives child support of $600 a month. After taxes and deductions, including the child support, Amy and Ben live off of $2,147 a month. Ben has medical needs that sometimes require expensive prescriptions, and some months Amy does not have enough money to buy all the groceries she needs. With routine home repairs and periodic car repairs, Amy is unable to save any money for the future.

Amy is greatly concerned about what would happen to Ben if she were to die. Amy has some equity in her home and a small 401(k) balance with her current employer. Amy cannot afford the advice of an attorney or to have her will and final directives formalized. She is just one example of thousands of individuals and families in the Indianapolis area who work hard to make ends meet but put off making end of life planning decisions because of the cost.

Luckily for Amy, the Indianapolis Bar Association offers a Low Asset Will Program, which is made possible through the generosity of the Indianapolis Bar Foundation. The Low Asset Will Program is designed to help as many of these individuals as possible. Every January through March, individuals apply and, based upon income, assets and home equity, are financially qualified and matched with an IndyBar volunteer attorney to draft and execute a will and advance directives pro bono.

This program makes a difference in people’s lives and it is important to our community. When asked about his involvement in the Low Asset Wills Program, long-time volunteer attorney Preston Ray of Cummins Inc. said, “Many times I’ve seen how much people appreciate being able to meet one on one with a volunteer attorney to get their affairs in order. It is a real and tangible benefit to people. Personally, I have benefitted as well, getting to meet people I would not otherwise get to meet.” When asked to share an experience, Mr. Ray said, “One story in particular comes to mind. I meet with a couple who had been married for more than 50 years and one of them got tears in their eyes as we sat in their living room and they contemplated life without the other. I thought to myself, they are rich even though they may not have a lot of assets.”

New for 2013 is a Modest Means component of the program. In years past, applicants like Amy who did not meet the criteria were turned away and their needs likely unmet. The Modest Means component will allow individuals and families with higher but still modest financial thresholds to be matched with an attorney. Low Asset Wills volunteer attorney Lea Ellingwood of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission notes, “Including a modest means component gets to the real program objective. It makes the program more attractive to attorneys in that we would be able to help a wider base of people.”

Attorneys providing services to clients at the Modest Means level will provide a free consultation and charge no more than $75 per hour for their work. Attorneys are allowed to charge less if they so desire, and all attorneys taking a modest means case must also be willing to take one case on a pro bono basis. The Indianapolis Bar Association’s Pro Bono Standing Committee is excited to provide this option in order to address the growing need in this important area of the law.

If you are of the mindset that everyone needs to have a will and final directives regardless of the ability to pay, then please volunteer for this worthwhile program. IndyBar member attorneys need only contact Caren Chopp at (317) 269-2000 or via email at cchopp@indybar.org, in order to volunteer. When you are matched with a qualified client, you will be notified by email and provided client information and form templates to use. It will be up to the applicant to contact you. If you choose to accept a Modest Means case, you will be required to assist one client on a pro bono basis as well. Thank you for considering volunteering for this worth-while program.•

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