Topic: For Seniors

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Joint accounts can make perfect sense for seniors who depend on family members for help paying bills and other day-to-day tasks. Joint accounts can also help avoid the need for probate, an often-complex process that requires court involvement to carry out the will. 

Undoubtedly, joint bank accounts can make life easier for the right people: seniors and their trusted family members or caretakers. However, they can also make things easier for the wrong ones: people who want to exploit seniors and get access to their money. I hear this concern from a lot of my clients. Their son is in and out of rehab, or their daughter may be easily manipulated by an abusive spouse. Is it safe to add their name to the account? 

My clients are right to be cautious, because opening a joint account gives the joint owners virtually unlimited access. They can withdraw any amount of money, at any time, for any reason, without your permission. And the process is irreversible: Once you give someone access to your account, the only way to remove them is to close the account. (The same warning applies if you make someone a co-owner of your home with a new deed; you cannot change your mind and deed it back to yourself unless they agree to give back their interest.) 

Therefore, my advice to clients is always: Pick someone you can truly trust, and understand how joint accounts work so both you and your bank know what you want. 

If you want someone to have access to your account while you’re alive and receive full ownership of the account when you die, then you want a “joint account with a right of survivorship.” If you want this type of account, make sure the written agreement you sign with your bank clearly states that the account has a right of survivorship. 

If you want to give someone access to your account only after your death, then you want a “payable on death” account that names a beneficiary. You can set up a POD account if you are the sole owner of the account, or if the account already has a joint owner and you want the beneficiary to be a third party. Be aware, though, that this will create problems if your joint owners do not agree on the POD beneficiary. 

Finally, be aware that setting up a right of survivorship or POD account will not necessarily prevent a portion of the account from being used to pay your debts after your death if you have no other money or assets. 

So, when clients ask me about “adding a name” to an account, I tell them that joint accounts can definitely make life easier, but they are first and foremost a matter of trust.

Topic: For Seniors

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When most people think of domestic violence, they probably picture violence among couples or towards children. But what about abuse of senior citizens by their families or caretakers, is that domestic violence?


North Carolina’s domestic violence law, General Statute 50B, often referred to simply as 50B, covers more than just romantic and parental relationships. It offers important protections and forms of relief for elderly victims, too.

50B lists the types of “personal relationships” that qualify under the law. Parent-child and grandparent-grandchild relationships are specifically mentioned, as are “current or former household members,” which could include any family member, friend, caretaker or roommate who has lived with the victim. And of course, abuse in romantic relationships is possible at any age, whether the relationship is new or decades old. An elderly victim in one of these qualifying relationships may obtain the same types of relief through a protective order as a younger victim abused by their spouse. However, relief under 50B is only available if the abuser is over the age of sixteen, regardless of the relationship.

Relief under 50B can include a court order to keep the abuser away from the victim’s home. Unfortunately, such a measure is sometimes the only way to keep an abusive family member away, given family dynamics and routine access that caretakers, children or grandchildren may have to the victim’s residence. A protective order can trigger legal safeguards including mandatory arrests when certain terms of the order are violated – for example, when the perpetrator refuses to stay away from the victim’s home.

When a family member is abusing an elderly person, the close relationship may make it difficult to contemplate seeking a protective order against the abuser. Whether to take such action should always be the victim’s decision, but there is always help and support available even if they are not ready to take action. The resources available to younger victims in married or dating relationships are also often available to elderly victims. The North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence lists shelters and advocacy organizations by county on its website. These organizations can often provide shelter, counseling, safety planning and other supportive services to victims, regardless of whether they wish to pursue criminal charges or seek a protective order.

Topic: For Seniors

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What are advance directives?

Advance directives are legal documents that state your wishes about your medical care, finances and property in case you become incapacitated or die. Here are the most common types:

  • Will: States who receives your property at death (your “beneficiaries”) and who handles your affairs after you die (your “executor”).
  • Living Will: Describes when you would want certain medical care withheld if you are unable to speak for yourself.
  • Durable Power of Attorney: States who can handle your financial matters and make related decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. This remains in effect only while you are alive.
  • Health Care Power of Attorney: Allows another person to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make those decisions yourself.

When is the right time to prepare advance directives? Before you need them!

Advance directives can only be authorized at a time when you have the legal capacity to make decisions and appoint others to handle things for you. Once you lose the mental or physical ability to make and communicate decisions, you also lose the ability to create valid, enforceable powers of attorney. This also applies to a living will, a document that let doctors know under which circumstances you would want life-prolonging measures withheld. Once you no longer have the capacity to make decisions about what you want, including which individuals you would allow to make decisions for you, you cannot legally execute these documents and they will not be valid even if you sign them.

What can happen without them?

To understand the importance of having advance directives in place before a triggering event, consider what can happen without them.

If you become physically or mentally incapacitated and have not authorized anyone else to make decisions for you, doctors will look to your next of kin to make health care decisions. This may be fine for some, but it could be a nightmare if you’re separated but not yet divorced, or if you are estranged from your closest relative.

As far as finances go, if nobody has authority to write checks for you and pay your bills, you may rack up debt including late charges, interest fees and possibly even lawsuits by creditors. The only remedy available will likely be legal guardianship. This means you must be declared incompetent and it will be too late then to choose who you wish to act as your legal guardian. If you are no longer competent, absolutely anyone can file a petition to become your guardian and it will be up to a clerk of court, who has never met you before, to decide whether to grant any particular individual the power to make major decisions about your life.

Advance directives avoid drastic outcomes.

Preparing advance directives while you’re mentally and physically able to do so gives you maximum options and can help you avoid ending up in the hands of the wrong person and becoming more vulnerable to abuse or exploitation. So if you’re aging, but happily still able to make decisions and do things for yourself, use that power now to extend your decisions into the future while you still can.

Topic: For Seniors

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​Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Senior Law Project provides free civil legal help to North Carolinians who are 60 years of age or older.

  • Wills and powers of attorney
  • Public benefits: Medicaid, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income Program, Social Security Disability Insurance and more
  • Abuse and neglect
  • Unemployment compensation
  • Housing: Foreclosure, eviction, subsidized housing, repairs, utilities, etc.
  • Consumer issues
  • Wrongful repossession

The Senior Law Project operates our Senior Legal Helpline, a toll-free hotline available for seniors across the state.

The project can serve seniors of all income levels, but we prioritize clients with the greatest need.

Stay Connected

Want to receive the Senior Law Project’s quarterly e-newsletter?


Topic: For Seniors

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Attend our free Wills and Powers of Attorney to learn how to complete a health care power of attorney and a living will on your own. You will receive a packet of legal forms and watch an instructional video. A volunteer attorney will be available to answer general questions.

The clinic will provide you with general legal information and guidance only. The clinic will not provide you with specific, individual legal advice. If you need more help after the clinic, call our toll-free Helpline to apply for help.

The clinic is held in locations throughout the state. If you do not see a clinic in your county, please check nearby counties. Sign up for the clinic here. Other organizations host similar clinics. If you live in Eastern North Carolina, check out the free Advance Care Planning clinics hosted by ECU Health. If you live in the Charlotte area, check out the free Advance Directive Workshops hosted by Atrium Health.

For your convenience, we hold all of our clinics electronically using Facebook Live and Zoom. All of the clinics are completely free and open to the public.

  • Facebook Live: To participate using Facebook, visit our Facebook Live page when the clinic starts. You do not need a Facebook account to watch the presentation, but you do need an account to send questions to the presenters. Sign up for a free Facebook account.
  • Zoom: To participate using Zoom, use the listing below to register for the clinic you are interested in. You do not need a Zoom account to participate in the clinic. Once you register, you will receive an email containing a link to the Zoom presentation. When the clinic starts, click the Zoom link to join.

Topic: For Seniors

← Back to We are launching our "Stop the Cycle" campaign against abuse, assault and exploitation

RALEIGH—Legal Aid of North Carolina has launched the StopTheCycleNC campaign to raise awareness of the key role legal representation plays in ending the cycle of abuse for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking, as well as seniors who have experienced financial exploitation. educates users about what constitutes abuse, assault and exploitation, and the legal resources and support available to help victims break free from their abusers. From, victims can call Legal Aid NC for help or connect to Legal Aid NC’s online application to start the intake process. Digital and radio advertising will start later this month and run through the holidays, when reports of abuse are known to increase. For more information, visit

Abuse, assault and exploitation can take many different forms, victimizing someone of any race, age, gender, sexuality, religion, education level or economic status. Victims are often repeatedly abused by an intimate partner, exploited by someone they trust or trapped in inhumane or illegal conditions at jobs they need for income. Escaping an abusive situation can become complicated between family members, for example, when the abuser is an intimate partner and children are involved, or when someone who holds power of attorney is using their position to defraud an elderly relative. Victims are even more reluctant to take action when they do not understand their rights, have little support and lack financial resources.

Rooted in more than 40 years of experience, Legal Aid NC has provided legal assistance to any victim of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking, regardless of income or immigration status. Through its Senior Law Project, Legal Aid NC helps senior citizens who have been financially exploited. Legal Aid NC also helps clients with unemployment and government benefits, access to housing and family law services for child custody issues.

“When victims are finally ready to stop the cycle of victimization, Legal Aid NC is a partner in empowerment,” said TeAndra Miller, project manager of Legal Aid NC’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Project. “Our process may start with helping them obtain a protective order or legal document to protect their assets and children, but we go far beyond with services that can help them achieve stability and a path to independence.”

As an independent organization, Legal Aid NC is not affiliated with the government, district attorney offices or social services. They can help any North Carolina resident regardless of where they live, even if there is no Legal Aid NC office near them. Legal Aid NC’s ability to help victims is not impacted by the pandemic, or whether or not courts are open.

Legal Aid NC’s Stop the Cycle campaign and the services it promotes are funded in part by the Governor’s Crime Commission, the chief advisory body on crime and justice issues to North Carolina’s Governor and Secretary of Public Safety.

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Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. Learn more at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. Need legal help? Call 1-866-219-5262 (toll-free) or apply online.

Media contact: Sean Driscoll, Director of Public Relations, 919-856-2132,

Topic: For Seniors

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Thank you for attending our virtual presentation! Please complete this quick survey so that we can get your feedback about the event:

0:00 – introduction
0:31 – Who needs a will
1:00 – Why is estate planning relevant to disaster relief
2:10 – what is a will
2:20 – who can create a will?
3:08 – What are the different types of wills
4:50 – What should you do after you create a will?
5:35 – Can a will be changed or revoked?
6:20 – What happens if I die without a will?
7:29 – How may property be distributed in my will?
8:45 – What are advanced directives?
9:08 – Power of Attorney
13:35 – Health Care Power of Attorney
15:50 – Living Will

Topic: For Seniors

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This video discuss the most common end-of-life-planning documents, including Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Living Wills. We will also discuss how the Covid-19 Pandemic is changing the creation and execution of these documents, including whether in-person meetings of notaries and witnesses are still required in this period of social distancing.