by Toni Roberts
*At the time this article was created, DeKalb Pro Bono existed under its former name of DeKalb Volunteer Lawyers Association.
This year, I learned firsthand why DVLF’s work is so important. On May 13, 2019, my 93-year old grandmother died. Three days later, her son, my father, had a heart attack and died. They left behind my 71-year old uncle, a Vietnam veteran who has long suffered intense bouts with PTSD. In one week’s time, my uncle watched his mom and last living sibling take their last breaths. Literally. He sunk into a deep and traumatic period of depression.
The three of them had for many years lived together right here in Decatur in a home owned by my grandmother. In the midst of the devastation and grieving that comes with losing a family member (multiplied by 2), we learned that my grandmother not only died intestate, but she also had a reverse mortgage. What does that actually mean? What will happen to my uncle? How do we even begin to figure this out? None of us had a clue…including me.
As the oldest grandchild, I felt as if all eyes were on me to steer this ship now without a sail. After all, I know hundreds of attorneys in the Metro Atlanta area. I’m the Executive Director of a legal services agency, for crying out loud. Surely, I should have the answers. I didn’t. Instead, what I had was terrible anxiety just thinking about what not having the answers would mean for my family, and particularly for my uncle who was spiraling and needed somebody to have the answers.
What I did know is that DVLF has a bi-monthly Probate Information Center, in partnership with the DeKalb Probate Court, that utilizes the services of experienced members of the Atlanta Bar Association’s Estate Planning Section to offer free consultations for just these types of matters. As soon as he was ready, I made an appointment for him to participate. His attorney volunteer gave him vital information to begin working his way out of this maze and ensure that he wouldn’t become homeless, which gave me the tools to appropriately support him.
When a family is grieving or otherwise facing a crisis, it is difficult at best for them to find their way. It’s emotional. It’s frustrating. It evokes a staggering measure of distress. The truth is, there are drastic, life-changing consequences to a lack of understanding of court procedures. Each and every DVLF client is in that predicament and the only thing they know to do was call someone, anyone, for help. And that’s the sole mission of this organization: to build bridges and send help.
After going through this experience, I am more humbled than ever, more proud than ever, to partner with the incredible army of attorneys who use their bar license to calm the raging storms in the lives of people in this community. Even with all of my experience and connections, I was wrought with fear. It was only through the kindness and generosity of volunteers who took the time to help my uncle when he was at his absolute lowest, that my family got the help it needed. I owe a tremendous debt to the legal community. I will pay it forward in service.
If you’d like to contribute to our cause, please consider making a charitable donation to DVLF. It just might change your life.