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MidPenn Legal Services is a non-profit, public interest law firm that provides high quality free civil legal services to low-income residents and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in 18 counties in Central Pennsylvania.
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News & Notes

The Pennsylvania Courts through its Office of Elder Justice in the Courts (OEJC) today announced a new, grant-funded pilot project with MidPenn Legal Services and the Dauphin County Orphans’ Court to provide free legal representation in all guardianship cases in Dauphin County for adults aged 60 and older.

“Guardianship is sometimes necessary for persons with diminished capacity or persons with a disability in managing their affairs,” said the OEJC’s Senior Judge Paula Francisco Ott. “The appointment of counsel through this partnership is a tremendous benefit to all older Pennsylvanians, further ensuring that their concerns, wishes and rights are respected and protected at every step of the legal process.”

This initiative aims to increase the appointment of counsel for and the frequency of attendance of the alleged incapacitated person or incapacitated person at guardianship proceedings, both key factors in ensuring due process and the preservation of their rights.

Working with MidPenn Legal Services, Dauphin County’s Orphans’ Court, under the leadership of Judge John McNally, will appoint counsel for all alleged incapacitated persons aged 60 and older unless they decline representation, elect to hire private counsel, or have counsel who was appointed by the court prior to the start of the pilot project. The Court and MidPenn Legal Services will also provide case data to the OEJC for analysis of grant goals and outcomes.

In Sept. 2022, the OEJC was awarded a three-year Elder Justice Innovation Grant from the federal Administration for Community Living to further its work to protect older Pennsylvanians and implement improvements in the handling of adult guardianships cases. Pennsylvania was one of three states to receive this grant.

The overarching goals of the OEJC’s grant are to:

Assure due process for alleged incapacitated or incapacitated persons
Improve guardianship monitoring capabilities to prevent abuse and exploitation
Promote alternatives to guardianships.
The grant work in Pennsylvania is overseen by the OEJC, which was established by the Supreme Court in 2015. The OEJC is committed to protecting Pennsylvania’s rapidly growing population of older adults from all forms of abuse and neglect; promoting best practices addressing elder abuse and neglect, guardianship and access to justice; and educating judges, court staff, attorneys, guardians, and the public about elder abuse and how to respond.

In collaboration with the Advisory Council on Elder Justice in the Courts, other elder justice entities, and branches of government, the OEJC works to enhance older Pennsylvanians’ ability to fully participate in legal proceedings.

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHP) — Seniors in Dauphin County are getting some additional help.

The County officially announced the launch of their pilot program Thursday which will provide free legal representation for incapacitated individuals having to attend guardianship court proceedings.

A guardianship, or what is also known as a conservatorship, is when an adult is deemed incapable of making their own decisions, whether that may be financial or day-to-day choices, and a professional or family member steps in to make those decisions for them. However, sometimes, no one is there to advocate for the senior's rights.

“Oftentimes, they were living independently, in a house, buying their own groceries, making sure they’re tending to their own daily needs and they slip and fall, and all of a sudden they find themselves in a nursing home," said Nick Matash, an attorney for MidPenn Legal Services.

Personal possessions, childhood homes, or any personal autonomy or liberty are threatened with a petition for guardianship looming over their heads. Without an opportunity to be heard, legal experts say adults without representation become more likely to accept a life-altering decision made by the court.
“It’s the total loss of their pasts," said Matash.

This is why Dauphin County, the Office of Elder Justice in the Courts and the Dauphin County Orphans’ Court are working with MidPenn Legal Services to provide free legal representation for allegedly incapacitated adults 60 and older. They say one of the goals is to help them consider all of the necessary questions.