ASSESSMENT OF LEGAL NEEDS
Henry A. Beyer and Deborah Lynch
For a few clients who came to the Kennedy Aging Project, questions of guardianship or estate planning were included among their presenting problems. But the majority arrived with no legal issues in mind. Nevertheless, an assessment of possible legal needs, which was made for every client, determined that a significant number required some assistance in law-related matters, and that a few were in need of the extended services of an attorney or other advocate.
Questions for the assessing of legal needs were incorporated into the mail, telephone, and face-to-face client questionnaires. They were designed, first, to determine the client's legal and financial status. Clients and their caregivers were asked, for example, whether the client was currently under or had ever been recommended for guardianship or conservatorship; whether he received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or other disability benefits; whether he had a representative payee to receive and handle such benefits; whether any trust or other financial arrangement had been established or was contemplated by the family or others for the client's benefit; what was the approximate size of the client's assets and income; and whether the client had made a will or might wish to do so.
Another important factor regarding a client's legal status was whether he was a "class client," that is, a member of a class guaranteed special protections by consent decrees entered into by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in settlement of class actions at five state schools for people with mental retardation. 1 Individuals who were residents of those schools on or after specific dates in the early 1970s have lifelong entitlements, guaranteed by a federal court, to appropriate residential and other services. They thus enjoy a high priority in vying for limited resources. Many other states also have certain citizens in such favored positions, the beneficiaries of similar class actions. 2