Monday, September 15, 2014

Senior Legal Aid's Greatest Hits

We've served over 12,000 senior West Virginians over the past 15+ years. We've gotten questions about a broad variety of civil legal issues: consumer, healthcare, landlord/tenant, home ownership, family law, planning for incapacity, disability rights, elder abuse, nursing home, Social Security and other benefits, even paternity. From soup to nuts. I don't think we've ever gotten exactly the same question or problem twice.

But there are a few answers and advice that keep coming back, at least to prevent future problems if not solve the current one. Here are a few of those old chestnuts:

  1. Don't sign anything you don't understand or haven't read carefully. It might seem obvious but people do it and call us with the regrets. If you don't feel comfortable reading it yourself, get somebody your trust to read it for you. If you're being pressured to sign without carefully reviewing, it's probably a bad idea, don't do it.
  2. Neither the credit card company nor their collection agents can garnish your Social Security. So there's not likely any reason to keep talking to them when they call after you've already told them you can't afford to pay the bill. There's nothing you can say that will change that situation. The debt won't go away merely because you can't pay it, but they won't get paid if what little you get each month and have is protected by law from collections.
  3. When filing a complaint focus more on the solution than the problem. The more specific you can be about what you want to have happen now the more likely you are to get it. Rather than rehashing what already happened, what they did that wasn't right, trying to figure out why people do things you don't like, try making it easy for somebody to say "Yes, let's do that, that's a reasonable solution."
  4. Don't pay people up front for work, pay after the work is satisfactorily completed. Reputable contractors have credit they can use for materials. Disreputable ones don't. The lowest bidder on the job is not likely to do the best work.
  5. Get it in writing. Not only will it help prove your case if a problem arises, it prevents a lot of problems. When you each see the specific terms of an agreement you might realize, that's not what I thought you meant, or I didn't realize there would be these other costs, too.
  6. The law can't make a bad _________________ (landlord, boss, neighbor, etc.) into a good ____________________ (landlord, boss, neighbor, etc.). The law is mostly designed to get you compensated if somebody harms you, and you can prove it, and they have resources to pay. The law does not prevent people from lying, being mean, doing stupid things, violating your rights, or all the other bad things people do to each other. Only the Magic 8 Ball knows why people act the say they do. "They can't do that, can they?" Apparently they did, so yes, they can. The question I can answer better is how can you exercise your right to make it stop and try to get them to pay you for the damage.

Oh, there are so many more of these, maybe it merits a Part Two post sometime. Til then, here's hoping your neighbors, bosses, landlords, in-laws, merchants, banks, and spouses treat you with the kindness and respect you deserve!

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