It’s the Legality of it All: Legal Assistance for Aging Adults in Rural East Tennessee

Image of a woman in a black suit jacket and blue shirt sitting at a desk holding a clip board with a document on it and holding a pen in her right hand pointing to the paper. Sitting at the table across from on on the right side of the image is an elderly man with gray hair wearing a black suit and a woman with light brown hair and wearing a light purple sweater.

Aging can be overwhelming especially as you start planning for the future. Whether it is estate planning, power of attorney, or seeking assistance with Medicaid benefits, older adults may find it difficult in getting all these documents in order, especially aging adults who live in rural areas that may not have easy access to resources.

East Tennessee Human Resource Agency (ETHRA), located in Knoxville, Tennessee, has a legal assistance program that provides legal services and referrals to those 60 and older.  The ETHRA Legal Assistance for the Elderly Program offers services which extend from referrals, to brief advice, to full legal representation, in a variety of legal matters. Currently the program provides services for Power of Attorney and for Qualified Income Trusts for Medicaid to rural counties in East Tennessee.

“People often come to us with a fear of not knowing what papers to file for their loved ones to make decisions for them, or how to handle trusts for their benefits,” said Baily Perry Bowers, part-time attorney for ETHRA Legal Services for the Elderly program. “I think it’s the legality of it all.”

Bowers went on to say that some people have difficulty finding help who are not in the big cities like Knoxville, or Knox County. “And that’s why we’re here to help,” said Bowers.

One of the services provided by the program is assisting aging adults in completing and filing Power of Attorney (legal and healthcare) forms. Power of Attorney are two-page documents providing legal, business, and healthcare powers to a relative or a friend in the case of a loss of capacity. Power of Attorney forms are important for aging adults to execute well in advance of any kind of emergency as the forms must be completed prior to a person’s loss of capacity.

“I advise my clients to choose carefully who to appoint, as it needs to be a trustworthy relative or friend, because there have been cases where a Power of Attorney takes financial advantage of a senior and/or where a healthcare Power of Attorney makes decisions contrary to the best interest of the senior,” said Bowers.

Another provided service through the program is Qualified Income Trusts.  Also known as QIT and/or Miller Trusts, Qualified Income Trusts are bank accounts set up especially for the purposes of the receipt of Medicaid benefits, either in-home care or nursing facility care.

“When an individual has income over the current state limit of $2,382.00 per month, the excess funds must be deposited into a special bank account established by a trust document,” said Bowers.  “The bank account is similar to a checking account, and the excess funds can be used for specific care-related expenses for the senior.”

Bowers, along with Program Assistant Vickie Patterson, works tirelessly and without much funding to assist individuals through this program. All program services are provided at no cost to the client. However, due to lack of additional funding available to cover incidental legal expenses related to certain types of cases (i.e., fees to obtain records or to file court documents), if an individual has a case type that requires payment of fees to third parties, then out-of-pocket expenses may be applied to provide the requested legal representation.

Bowers, who is a native Hoosier, a graduate of University of Tennessee and St. Thomas University Law School, has lived in Knoxville since 1997 and worked for ETHRA since September 2021.

“It is my primary goal to streamline the program and to focus on the most important work that can be accomplished on a part-time schedule,” said Bowers. “I am blessed to have a great assistant, Vickie, and she and I are working feverishly to assist as many seniors as possible in an empathetic and proficient way.”

The counties served by Bowers and Patterson through the ETHRA Legal Assistance for the Elderly Program are Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Claiborne, Cocke, Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson, Loudon, Monroe, Morgan, Roane, Scott, Sevier, and Union.

For more information, please contact Baily Bowers at 865-691-2551 ext. 4212 or bbowers@ethra.org, or you can contact Vickie Patterson at 865-691-2551 ext. 4224 or vpatterson@ethra.org.