Legal help for property ownership issues is available for older adults

Alicia Colombo

By Jay Nachman


For some older adults, a home may be their only major asset. If you own a home, it is vital for older adults to resolve any legal issues related to home ownership so they can remain in their homes and qualify for
benefit programs, such as the City of Philadelphia’s Low-income Senior Citizen Real Estate Tax Freeze. Home ownership issues can also impact a person’s ability to pass on assets to family members and accrue generational wealth.

There are several legal services organizations in Philadelphia that provide free or low-cost services to help people resolve property ownership issues and/or protect their assets. These legal services providers include SeniorLAW Center, which focuses on serving older people; Philadelphia Legal Assistance; Community Legal Services; and Philadelphia VIP, the hub of legal pro bono (no-cost) legal services in Philadelphia.

Many older adults seek help for the complicated issue of tangled title, which occurs when the title of a property does not accurately reflect the present homeowner’s claim to the home.

“We help people resolve tangled title issues, and then we separately also help them make estate planning documents so that they can transfer that wealth onto future generations and have a plan in place for how they want it to be handled,” said Lindsay H. Schoonmaker, supervising attorney for Philadelphia VIP.

Philadelphia VIP provides free legal services to Philadelphians who face legal challenges threatening their basic human needs, such as housing, family, income and community. The agency helps people who are unable to access these services elsewhere.

“Maybe, it was a family home that had been passed down for generations,” Schoonmaker said. But the current homeowner hasn’t gotten the title changed into their name yet. “Or, maybe it was a lease-purchase agreement and/or adverse possession, (where a person in possession of property owned by someone else may acquire valid title to it) or some (other) reason why the client’s name wasn’t on the title.”

Among other things, Philadelphia VIP’s volunteer lawyers help clients get title to a home that they are living in and have a legal interest in, but for some reason their name isn’t on the title.

The agency also administers the City of Philadelphia’s Tangled Title Fund, which provides grants up to $4,000 to help people with limited incomes who are seeking to clear legal title to their homes. These grants preserve affordable housing, prevent homelessness and strengthen communities.

Too many people wait to seek legal assistance until they are in a crisis. Advance planning can help you avoid a stressful situation. Take the time to address property ownership issues now, so it doesn’t become a VIP’s volunteer lawyers help clients get title to a home that they are living in and have a legal interest in, but for some reason their name isn’t on the title.

The agency also administers the City of Philadelphia’s Tangled Title Fund, which provides grants up to $4,000 to help people with limited incomes who are seeking to clear legal title to their homes. These grants preserve affordable housing, prevent homelessness and strengthen communities.

Too many people wait to seek legal assistance until they are in a crisis. Advance planning can help you avoid a stressful situation. Take the time to address property ownership issues now, so it doesn’t become a problem for you or your family at a later time.

Legal Services
The following legal services providers can help resolve tangled titles and other housing-related issues. Since individuals have unique needs and circumstances, it is best to reach out to a trusted legal services provider for advice and assistance for you or a loved one.

Community Legal Services provides free legal advice and representation to low-income residents of Philadelphia. 215-981-3700 | clsphila.org

Philadelphia Legal Assistance provides free legal help to Philadelphia residents who cannot afford an attorney. For mortgages, sheriff sales, tangled titles or mediation scheduled through the Eviction Diversion program, call the Save Your Home Philly Hotline at 215-334-HOME (4663), weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. | For child custody, leaving an abusive home, or another family issue, call the Family Law Hotline at 215-981 3838, Monday through Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. | For unemployment compensation, tax issues or any other issue, call the General Intake Hotline at 215-981-3800, Monday through Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. | philalegal.org

Philadelphia VIP provides free legal representation to Philadelphians facing legal threats to housing, family, and income. Office hours by appointment only: Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1500 Walnut St., Suite 400 | 215-523-9550 | phillyvip.org

Senior LAW Center provides a wide range of civil legal services to protect the legal rights and interests of older adults in Pennsylvania. Services and counseling are available in English and Spanish. Walk-ins for emergencies only: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at 1650 Arch St., Suite 1820 | Intake line: 215-988-1242, available Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. | seniorlawcenter.org


Jay Nachman is a freelance writer in Philadelphia who tells stories for a variety of clients.

Categories: Housing Legal Matters Milestones eNews

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