86-year-old Grace and her husband Clifford shared a happy marriage for many years. Grace worked part-time when Clifford retired, but throughout their lives he handled all of their finances. Clifford died suddenly of a heart attack, and when Grace and her daughter began to sort through everything, they were shocked to learn that her husband had secretly spent most everything they earned and gone into significant debt in last years of his life. (Grace and her daughter now believe that Clifford may have been in the early stages of dementia before he died.) Debt collectors began to call and threatened garnishments, small claims court, and public embarrassment. With no savings and a tiny monthly social security check, Grace felt helpless and ashamed. When a lawsuit was filed against her in small claims court, she had no idea how to move forward. Luckily, she found a community advocate who helped her set up a meeting with a legal aid lawyer. Legal aid helped Grace write a letter to explain that she had no assets and no extra income beyond her social security retirement. Grace credits legal aid with helping her put to rest her greatest fears – being put in jail for her husband’s debts or being publicly embarrassed. Of course, Grace still has to unravel and work through all the problems created by her husband’s spending. But legal aid made a huge difference in her ability to face the problems and find a path forward.

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