Frequently Asked Questions


General TLSC FAQS:

What kind of legal services does TLSC provide?
TLSC generally does not provide lawyers to represent people in court cases. TLSC operates a legal hotline program that gives self-help legal advice to Texas residents who are over age 60 or who receive Medicare. TLSC also has programs that assist low income people who have problems accessing health care, low income victims of violent crimes, persons who have suffered abuse or neglect in residential care facilities such as nursing homes, victims of identity theft, and persons who have problems with pensions.

Can TLSC help me get divorced or help me get child support?
No. However, there are self-help resources available on the Texas Law Help website, www.texaslawhelp.org.

Can TLSC defend me in a criminal case?
No. If you qualify as a person living on a low income, you may request that the court appoint an attorney to represent you.

Is TLSC Legal Aid?
TLSC is a nonprofit law office that provides legal services to traditionally underserved populations. Most people think of "legal aid" as referring to programs that are funded by the Legal Services Corporation. In that sense, TLSC is not "legal aid."

The Legal Services Corporation funded "legal aid" programs in Texas are:

Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid (1-888-988-9996)
Legal Aid of Northwest Texas (1-888-529-5277)
Lone Star Legal Aid (800-733-8394)

TLSC does not provide legal services that are available through these legal aid programs.

 

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Legal Hotline for Texans FAQs

What is the Legal Hotline for Texans?
The Legal Hotline for Texans is the oldest project of the Texas Legal Services Center. It is a limited legal services provider that offers self-help legal advice and local referrals to Texans sixty years of age or older and to persons eligible for Medicare. The legal advice is provided over the telephone by licensed Texas attorneys.

Can the Legal Hotline for Texans handle my divorce?
No. If you are eligible, the Hotline can answer questions about divorce, but does not represent individual clients. If you have an attorney handling your divorce, the Hotline cannot interfere with the attorney-client relationship.

Is the Legal Hotline the same as legal aid?
No it is not. The Hotline offers legal advice over the telephone. We do not represent individual clients.

Can the Legal Hotline handle a guardianship case?
No. Because the Legal Hotline does not represent individual clients, we are not able to go to court with you. We offer self-help legal advice over the telephone.

Can the Legal Hotline refer me to a reduced-fee attorney in my area?
Perhaps. In some areas of Texas, we have contracted with attorneys who have agreed to handle cases referred by us at a reduced fee. Whether or not we can make a referral also depends on your type of case.

Can the Legal Hotline handle my criminal case?
No. The Legal Hotline’s funding sources specifically prohibit the Hotline from handling criminal cases. If you cannot afford an attorney, you should ask the court for a court-appointed attorney to represent you at no cost to you.

If I call the Legal Hotline, will I speak to an attorney immediately?
Because of the high volume of calls that we receive every day, you will more than likely get an answering machine. Please leave a message with your name, telephone number including area code, and a brief description of your legal concern. We will return your call as soon as we can. Our intake specialists strive to return calls within 48 to 72 hours of the time you leave your message.

How long before I can talk to an attorney?
Before you speak to an attorney, an intake specialist will call and determine if you are eligible for Hotline services. If you are eligible, depending of the number of calls ready to be made, an attorney will strive to call you within five business days. Three attempts will be made to reach you. If we cannot reach you, we will ask you to call again.



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Health Law Program FAQs

What is the Health Law Program?
The Health Law Program was specifically created to respond to the growing need for legal assistance with health care issues. The Health Law Program provides free legal services to Texans with modest incomes that have questions regarding healthcare issues.

I had a slip and fall and I want to sue the store owner. Can you represent me?
Unfortunately not. Although you may have sustained injuries, a slip and fall is not considered a health matter. We will not be able to represent you, but we can refer you to an attorney who can handle this type of matter.

My doctor injured me during my surgery. Can you represent me?
This is a matter that falls outside the scope of the health law program. If your issue is one that an attorney can receive fees from the other side, then we cannot represent you, but we will refer you to an attorney who can handle this type of matter.

Can you draft a will for me?
No, we do not draft Wills; however, we can provide you with self help materials and a referral to an attorney that can assist you.

I need help with my Medicare / Medicaid appeal. Can you represent me?
Yes, the Health Law Program can represent you through the appeal process for Medicare, Medicaid, TANF and CHIP.

I do not have a lot of money. How much will you charge me?
Our services are free to those who qualify for the Health Law Program. Please click on the link to see if you meet our income guidelines.

I have an outstanding medical bill. Can you help me?
Yes, we can provide you with assistance.

I need to obtain a guardianship for my mother. Can you represent me?
No. We do not handle guardianships, but we can refer you to someone that can provide you with assistance.

I lost my Social Security and I need representation. Can you handle Social Security matters?
The Health Law Program does not handle social security matters, but we can refer you to someone who does.

 

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South Central Pension Rights Project FAQs

What is the South Central Pension Rights Project?
The South Central Pension Rights Project (SCPRP) is a grant funded non-profit legal assistance program that helps individuals understand and exercise their pension rights. SCPRP is funded primarily by a grant from the U.S. Administration on Aging. SCPRP is a program of Texas Legal Services Center, in cooperation with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.

What services does the South Central Pension Rights Project provide?
SCPRP answers questions and provides assistance with any issue relating to employer-sponsored retirement benefits. For example, we track down benefits from past employers, answer questions about pension laws and how they affect your retirement, contact corporate, union, government, church, or any public or private pension plan on your behalf, and provide legal advice and assistance on spousal rights upon death or divorce. We assist with all types of plans, including defined benefit pension plans, cash balance, money purchase, profit-sharing, 401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans.

Is there a charge for your services?
No. There is no charge for our services.

Who is eligible for your services?
We can serve you if you or your spouse live or worked in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, or Texas, or if your pension plan is located in any of those states. Our services are provided free of charge, regardless of age or income.

How long will it take for my pension issue to be resolved?
Pension issues normally take between two and twelve months to resolve. This is due to federal laws that give pension plan administrators a generous amount of time in which to respond to information requests. The length of time it takes to resolve your pension matter depends upon the level of cooperation that we receive from the pension plan administrator and the complexity of your case.

I believe that I should be drawing a pension, but I can’t locate my former employer. What should I do?
This is one of the most common pension problems. People move and forget to notify former employers or pension plan administrators. Companies move, merge, or go out of business and lose track of former employees. Locating a lost plan can be difficult. There are a few steps that a person can take to locate a lost pension, especially if internet access is available. If you do not have internet access at home, contact your local public library or senior center. Many libraries and senior centers offer internet access and instruction at no charge.
The first step to locating a lost pension is to search your personal records. If you have any old papers from the pension plan, they may contain the address of the pension plan administrator. If you have old income tax returns, you may be able to locate your employer’s address on an old W-2 form. If the address is no longer a good one, you may be able to locate the employer by performing a general internet search for the employer’s name, by using telephone books and catalogues of companies found in the reference section of your local library, or by contacting the U.S. Postal Service for a forwarding address. If you are able to locate a current address for your former employer, write a letter requesting information about the pension plan and how to apply for benefits.

If you are still in touch with former co-workers, talk to them. Find out if they are drawing a pension. If a former co-worker is drawing a pension, find out where their monthly check comes from, and write the entity that issues the monthly check. If the entity that issues the monthly check is not the plan administrator, it will be able to give you the plan administrator’s name and address. Be aware that even though your co-worker is drawing a pension, you may not be vested in the pension. If you are able to locate the plan and receive benefits, your pension benefit will most likely not be the same as your former co-worker’s benefit. Pension benefits are calculated according to each participant’s work history.

Pension plans must file informational returns with the Department of Labor. Information is reported on a DOL Form 5500. The website www.freeerisa.com maintains a searchable database of Forms 5500. You can also print a copy of a Form 5500 from the website. If you search the Freeerisa website and locate a Form 5500 under a former employer’s name, the latest plan administrator’s name and address will be on the form. Write the pension plan administrator and request an individual benefits statement and a summary of the pension plan provisions. It is important that communications with pension plan administrators be in writing. Always make a copy of your letters and keep them in a file. It is also important to send letters of inquiry by certified mail because the return receipts serve as evidence that the letters were received.

I believe that my pension plan was terminated. What should I do?
Whether your former employer went out of business or merged with another company, the pension plan may have been terminated. When pension plans terminate, a number of things can happen. Most commonly, benefits will be distributed in a lump sum or the plan administrator will purchase annuities for vested plan participants. Upon termination, the plan administrator must certify to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) that all vested benefits have been paid out in the form of lump sum payments or annuities. If, after considerable effort, the plan administrator has been unable to locate a participant, the plan administrator provides information on the missing participant so that he or she can contact the PBGC to claim the benefit.

Some pension plans terminate because the plans are underfunded. That is, there is not enough money in the plan to fully cover pensions for all of the plan’s vested participants. If an underfunded terminated plan was insured by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a plan participant can contact the PBGC to see if pension benefits are due. The PBGC may also be able to assist you in locating the plan administrator of a terminated plan. The PBGC can be contacted toll free at 1-800-400-7242 or via their internet site www.pbgc.gov.

What should I do if I am receiving my pension, but I believe that the payments are lower than they should be?
There is no standard formula for calculating pension benefits. Each pension plan is different. Plan administrators have a fiduciary duty to make certain that each plan participant receives the correct amount. However, pension plan administrators sometimes make mistakes. The first step in verifying a pension calculation is to find out how your benefit was calculated. Contact your pension plan administrator in writing to request a copy of your benefit calculation. The next step is to compare the plan’s calculations with the formula set out in the pension plan document. The formula should be contained in the Summary Plan Description that you should have received when you became a plan participant. You can also request a copy of the Summary Plan Description from your plan administrator.

I am divorced. Am I entitled to receive benefits from my ex-spouse’s employer?
There is no automatic pension benefit for divorced spouses. When two people get divorced, the court must determine each spouse’s pension rights in the divorce decree. Typically, pension benefits that were earned during the course of the marriage are marital property that is divided between spouses upon divorce. However, this practice was not common prior to 1984.

How are pension rights determined in a divorce?
The partitioning of pension rights in divorce is a two step process. The initial order is contained in the divorce decree. One way to find out whether you have a right to an ex-spouse’s pension is to look at your divorce decree. If you do not have a copy of your divorce decree, you can get one by contacting the clerk of the district court in the county where you were divorced. The second step of the process of partitioning pension rights in a divorce is to obtain a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO). To pay pension benefits to a non-participant spouse, the pension plan administrator must be presented with and qualify a domestic relations order. Once qualified by the plan administrator, the order becomes a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) that allows the plan administrator to pay benefits.

How do I find out if I have a QDRO?
To find out whether a QDRO was approved in your divorce, contact the pension plan administrator. If the pension plan administrator does not have a QDRO, you will need to get a copy of your divorce decree to see whether the court made any orders regarding your rights to your ex-spouse’s pension. If you do not have a copy of your divorce decree, you can get one by contacting the district clerk in the county where you were divorced.

What if I do not have a QDRO, but my divorce decree gives me a portion of my ex-spouse’s pension?
If you have pension rights in your divorce decree and no QDRO was filed with the plan administrator, you will need to obtain a QDRO. In some cases, a divorce decree is specific enough to function as a QDRO. In most cases, a separate domestic relations order must be prepared. You can send a copy of your divorce decree to the plan administrator and request that it be qualified. However, the plan administrator can take up to 18 months to review and qualify a domestic relations order. If the plan administrator finds that the decree does not contain the language necessary to be qualified, then you must take the steps necessary to obtain a domestic relations order and present it to the plan administrator to be qualified.

Drafting domestic relations orders is complicated. It is not advisable to attempt to draft a domestic relations order without the assistance of an attorney. If your divorce decree partitions pension benefits but no QDRO was executed, it is best to hire an attorney to handle the drafting, execution, and qualification of the QDRO.

What if my divorce decree does not address my rights to my ex-spouse’s pension?
A pension plan administrator cannot pay benefits to an ex-spouse unless the divorce decree provides for it and a domestic relations order has been qualified. A domestic relations order cannot be executed or qualified absent an order from the court that granted the divorce. If your pension rights were not addressed in your divorce proceeding, then to be entitled to a portion of your ex-spouse’s pension you must re-open your divorce proceeding and request that the court address the pension issue. To re-open a divorce proceeding, you should obtain the advice of an attorney that practices in the area of family law. Your local bar association may have a lawyer referral service that can refer you to an attorney that handles divorces.


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Advocates for Victims of Crime (AVOICE)

Who is eligible for services?
Victims of violent crime and federal crimes like ID theft and human trafficking are eligible for services through our program.

What is a violent crime?
A violent crime is a crime where someone gets physically hurt. For example, assault is a violent crime; forgery is not a violent crime.

What is identity theft?
Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your knowledge to commit fraud.

Can you help me get out of jail?
No. We can only assist crime victims. We cannot help people who have been accused of a crime – even if the person is innocent. If you are low-income and you need assistance with criminal defense, you should call your local Public Defender’s Office.

What is the difference between a civil case and a criminal case?
Our court system has two parts: criminal and civil. Criminal cases are cases where a person has been accused of a crime. Usually, the accused person is arrested or gets a ticket. This kind of case is heard in the criminal courts, and if the accused is convicted (loses), then the punishment is usually jail time or payment of a fine. Civil cases are cases where no one will go to jail. Our office provides civil legal services for crime victims. This includes helping victims of violent crime to file for Crime Victims Compensation, helping ID theft victims understand their rights and clear their credit history, helping with Victim Impact Statements and Restitution requests, and help with other legal issues that a crime victim might face while recovering from the crime.

Can your office arrest or bring charges against a criminal?
No. We are not a law enforcement agency. Talk to your local police or sheriff’s department.

Are you the Attorney General?
No. We are a nonprofit law office. You can visit the Texas Attorney General’s Office website at www.oag.state.tx.us.

 

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Texas Veteran’s Legal Assistance Project

What is the Texas Veterans Legal Assistance Project?
The Texas Veterans Legal Assistance Project is a telephone-based legal assistance program of the Texas Legal Services, a long-time provider of similar services for older Texans. The Veterans Project was launched in the fall of 2010 in response to unresolved legal issues which pose an impediment to a Veteran’s transition from warrior to civilian, holding the Veteran and his or her family in poverty and desperation. The goal of the Project is to improve the quality of life for low-income Texas Veterans and their families by providing legal assistance.

Where are your offices? Can we walk in for assistance?
We are based in Austin, but we serve the entire state by telephone only. We do not provide in-person, walk-in assistance.

Is there a charge for VLAP’s services?
There is no charge for our service, though we do have eligibility requirements.

What are VLAP’s eligibility requirements?
Eligibility is determined through our telephone-based intake process. Our intake staff will return your call to determine this with you.

  • Veteran, spouse of Veteran, dependent of Veteran, or surviving spouse of Veteran
  • Current Texas residency
  • Income at or below 200% of the current Federal Poverty Guidelines

Can VLAP attorneys answer questions about my divorce/guardianship/custody case/will/bankruptcy/etc.?
Yes. Texas VLAP’s attorneys assist Texas Veterans on these and other issues every day.

Can VLAP attorneys answer questions involving Veteran benefits, such as Service-connected Disability, Non-service-connected Pension, Aid and Attendance, or Survivor’s Benefits? Yes. Many of the Veterans we assist are dealing with Veteran Administration-related matters in which input from an attorney could be very beneficial.

Can VLAP attorneys answer questions about my military discharge and assist with an upgrade?
Yes. Veterans who received a discharge from military service that was not categorized as Honorable frequently have concerns about the type of discharge received.

Can VLAP staff refer me to a reduced-fee attorney in my area?
Perhaps. In some areas of Texas, we have agreements with private attorneys to handle cases referred by Texas Legal Services Center at a reduced fee.

Can VLAP attorneys handle my criminal case?
No. VLAP’s funding sources specifically prohibit us from handling criminal cases.

If I call VLAP, will I speak to an attorney immediately?
No. You must first go through an interview process with an intake specialist to determine if you are eligible to receive legal assistance.

How long before I can speak with an attorney?
If you are eligible for VLAP legal assistance you can expect to be contacted by a VLAP attorney within 5 to 10 business days after you speak with an intake specialist.