Everyone Needs a Will

Less than fifty percent of Americans have a Last Will and Testament (Will), which is the document that tells your loved ones what you want to happen to your belongings after your death.  Wills are not just for people who have a lot of money and land to divide among their loved ones after their death.  Wills are for everyone.  Do you care who gets your property when you die?  Do you care who gets your money when you die? Do you care who is appointed as the guardian of your minor children when you die?  If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you need a Will.

            A Will lets you name the people you would like to inherit your belongings after your death. If you have children under the age of eighteen, a Will lets you name who you would like to be appointed as their legal guardian.  Having a Will makes your wishes clear to your family member and will cause less confusion for them after your death.  The Will also names a specific person, called a personal representative, to be responsible for making sure that the wishes stated in your Will are followed and that your chosen heirs receive the correct property or items after your death.

            If you die without a Will, the Probate Court Judge will divide your personal belongings according to the South Carolina intestacy law. Under the current law, your closest living family members will have it divided among them.  This may not be the same way that you wish to divide up your belongings and may not be the same people you wish to inherit from you after your death.  With some exceptions, you cannot prevent your family members from inheriting from you unless you have a Will that states that you do not want that person to receive anything.

The only way to make sure that your wishes are followed after your death is to have a valid Will prepared by an attorney. It must be properly witnessed and notarized.  You will not have any input or control over how your belongings are divided after your death unless you have a valid Last Will and Testament.  If you are interested in having a Last Will and Testament, but cannot afford an attorney, then you should contact South Carolina Legal Services at  1 (888) 346-5592 or apply online to see if you are eligible for a free attorney to help you.

Temporary Hearing in Family Court

In our last issue, we discussed the purposes of a temporary hearing in Family Court.  Here, we will discuss which forms and documents will be used in the temporary hearing.

Except in unusual circumstances, the parties in a case do not testify in temporary hearings.  Testifying is when you verbally tell the Judge what you have observed and what you are asking of the Court.  Instead, in temporary hearings, the parties and witnesses express their positions, observations, and opinions by completing affidavits.  An affidavit is a written, signed and notarized statement. 

The parties in the case should prepare their own affidavits with the assistance of their attorneys.  They may also want to use affidavits from additional witnesses.  Your attorney may provide a form for you to give to witnesses so that the witnesses can prepare their own affidavits.  The most helpful witnesses are generally people who are assumed to be neutral.  For example, a child’s teacher or a pastor’s affidavit may be considered useful to the Judge’s decision if the witness writing the affidavit has observed events that are relevant to the issue. 

If the issue is which parent should get custody, some relevant facts may include which parent helped the child with schoolwork, which parent appeared at teacher conferences, which parent takes the child to religious services, or how each parent interacts with the child.  Witnesses who have not observed the parent with the child, may be able to provide other useful information.  For example, the parent’s boss may write an affidavit about the parent’s good work ethic.  While these facts may not be quite as relevant to the issue of custody, they still may help the Judge with his or her decision.

There may be some evidence that could be attached to an affidavit, such as photos, bills or medical records.  Your attorney can help determine which attachments are appropriate and would be helpful.

Financial declarations are also required at temporary hearings.  A financial declaration lists a party’s income, bills, debts, and the value of their property.  Financial declarations are also sworn, notarized statements.  It is important to be truthful in your financial declaration. Also, carefully review the other party’s financial declaration.  Point out any mistakes to your attorney.

If there are children involved in your Court case, you will also prepare a temporary proposed parenting plan.  This document shows the Court what you believe would be best for the children. It includes a schedule for the child seeing both parents.  You can also list necessary restrictions in a parenting plan. For example, you could ask that the child not be exposed to R-rated movies.  In most cases, Judges want children to spend significant time with both parents.  If you believe it is unsafe for your child to spend time with the other parent, you and your attorney will need to explain why it is unsafe.  Your attorney may have other forms and steps they advise you to complete for the best chance of success.

As you can see, preparation for a temporary hearing can take some time.  Whenever you let the Judge decide an issue, you are giving up control about how it will be decided.  Also, the Judge does not know about your life.  You do.  For that reason, it is always best to see if there is way to reach an agreement before you let the Judge decide.  The Judge will often ask if you have tried yet to reach an agreement with the other party.  If there are children involved, the Judge will want to know that you are trying to do what is best for the children.   A temporary hearing is one step of many Family Court cases.  What is decided at the temporary hearing may be changed in the future, but it is important to spend time preparing for your best chance of success.

In Farmworkers’ Shoes

This past summer, I worked as an intern with South Carolina Legal Services in the firm’s Migrant Unit. Before I came to South Carolina, I did not quite know what to expect in terms of the actual conditions for farmworkers here. I did not know what their thoughts would be about their employers or their situations. Once I started meeting workers, I heard their concerns about wages, living conditions, and transportation.

Many workers that we visited complained about being overworked and underpaid, some working up to 16 hours a day. They were not getting paid for all their hours worked. They were not getting any overtime wage rate. They were about to travel back to their home countries with little or no money because of the wage theft by their employers. This was really disturbing to me because I could tell in their eyes that they felt hopeless. I knew that they were not getting given what was promised in their contracts. These were really young men. I understood their pain. I knew it could have been me in their position.  

I also witnessed terrible living conditions. These workers were living in tents and having to pay rent. I could not believe it. The scary aspect of this was that they were told to cook in their tents using propane gas tanks. They did not even have a refrigerator.

While those situations were terrible, I am glad I took part in Student Action with Farmworkers. It allowed me to inform the workers about their rights and connect them to our attorney in order to discuss their issues and how we could provide aid for them. I genuinely feel as if my participation in the program truly helped the workers because I was able to reach out to hundreds of farmworkers throughout the summer.

2019 Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) Intern
South Carolina Legal Services, Migrant Unit 

Living Without a Birth Certificate

Imagine you have no birth certificate because you were delivered by a midwife and were born in your parent’s home over 50 years ago. Your birth was never recorded, and there is no record of your birth at Vital Records. Last month we learned about people with birth certificates that needed to be corrected. People with no birth certificate have a different and sometimes more challenging problem. You essentially need to prove to Vital Records that you exist. Only then will the agency create a delayed birth certificate for you.

Obtaining a delayed birth certificate is often a very challenging process. Without a birth certificate, you cannot get an identification card (i.d.) or drivers’ license. Without an i.d. or license, you cannot get a birth certificate.  So begins the frustrating process of trying to obtain a delayed birth certificate.

Many people first discover that they have no birth certificate when they apply for Social Security Retirement benefits. One SCLS client who successfully obtained a court order had traveled throughout the country and abroad as a trainer for race horses. He carried around a check from the Social Security Administration for thousands of dollars for nearly a year, because he did not have a birth certificate and could not open a bank account. The client was unable to obtain public housing that he otherwise qualified for until his SCLS lawyer obtained an order for a delayed birth certificate for him.

Vital Records has an administrative process for obtaining a delayed birth certificate. An applicant must provide the agency with 3 different documents verifying the birth facts claimed. Only original or certified documents can be submitted. One document must show the full name of the applicant’s mother prior to any marriages. A marriage license or a Social Security Card may supply this information. A second document must show the correct age or full date of birth and place of birth of the applicant. School records, birth certificates for an applicant’s children, voter registration cards, or marriage licenses for the applicant would provide this information. The third document must also  show and verify the full, correct date of birth, including month, day and year of birth of the applicant. Documents such as driver’s records, insurance policies, medical records or military records may be used.

More recently, the trend in home births has caused similar problems, especially when the birth is unattended by a certified midwife or doula. If there are no efforts by a parent to document the child’s birth, the delay in doing so can make it more difficult to do so later.

            With the Real ID requirements fast approaching in October 2020, this problem can become even more urgent for persons without a birth certificate, which is the most important document required to obtain a Real ID. Without it, one cannot enter a federal building such as the Social Security office or use air travel or travel interstate by train or bus.

                Anyone who has never seen their birth certificate, or who is aware that they do not have a birth record, should take immediate steps to apply to Vital Records to get a copy of their birth certificate. If no record is found, this should generate a “Not Found” letter that will be needed to file a court action for a delayed birth certificate.  

            South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help with this process. To apply for our services, call us at 1-888-346-5592 or apply online.

Achieve the Dream: Removing Obstacles to Success Through the Expungement Process

I have made mistakes in the past. A lot. Despite my mistakes, I have been able to find a path to success. Despite my mistakes, I was able to get help along the way. However, there are many in our society who are denied help because of their past mistakes. Some are denied access to employment because of a lapse in judgment from years ago. Some are denied access to the most basic means of overcoming the hardships in life because of a wrong that they did as a minor.

The expungement process can remove certain criminal records from a person’s background. It is an effective way to erase the past mistakes. Certain crimes that are not eligible for expungement, may be eligible for a pardon. The pardon does not erase the criminal record, rather, it acknowledges that a person has been forgiven for those blunders.

Without the criminal record as an impediment, housing, employment, and other necessities are more readily accessible. Without the past criminal records getting in the way, all are free to work for and achieve their dream… just like I did.

On September 17th, SCLS hosted our annual Constitution Day Legal Forum. This year, the focus was on removing barriers to employment. Our legal team discussed options available to those wishing to get their life back on track. You can watch the video here.

If you would like to attend an expungement clinic, contact your local SCLS office for information about one coming up in your area.

SCLS regularly partners with other organizations to conduct expungement clinics. For example, last month, the Greenwood office of SCLS partnered with Meg’s House to present an expungement clinic. Meg’s House is a domestic violence shelter whose mission is to provide housing and supportive services that reduce the impact of domestic violence and chronic homelessness in the communities we serve. We would be happy to help your organization conduct a similar clinic. If your organization would like to partner with us to hold an expungement clinic, contact Tiffney Love at tiffneylove@sclegal.org.

Tips for Preparing for a Temporary Hearing in Family Court

Family Court cases can take a long time and may involve several court hearings. Temporary hearings are typically held early in the case.  They may be used when a client needs the Judge to make decisions on issues that need to be addressed quickly and on a temporary basis. What the Judge orders at the temporary hearing lasts until the next hearing.  At a temporary hearing, a Judge may order a temporary parenting plan, temporary child support, or temporary alimony. If the parties are married, the Judge may also decide who gets to use the marital home or vehicle. The Judge may also order restrictions about behavior of the parties. For example, the Judge may order that the parties cannot sell property that was purchased during the marriage or that they cannot talk badly about each other in front of the children. 

If an attorney knows that the case is likely to be contested, he or she may request a temporary hearing to ask for some deadlines to be established in the case.  In Family Court, if the parties do not agree about some issues, they must attend mediation. Mediation is a process where a third party, typically a trained and certified mediator, helps the parties try to reach an agreement. At the temporary hearing, the Judge may determine which mediator the parties should use and how the parties should pay for mediation. Typically, the Judge makes both parties divide the cost of mediation. You and your attorney will discuss what mediation option is best for your situation. You can then ask the Judge for that option. Ultimately, the Judge will make the decision about the choice of the mediator, the payment, and the deadline for mediation.

If the parties disagree about what is best for the children, the Judge will appoint a Guardian Ad Litem. This person will do an investigation of custody issues and will write a report for the court about what they found. The Guardian Ad Litem may visit the homes of both parties and speak to the children’s teachers or other family members. He or she may also look at the children’s medical records and search for other information about the children. It is important to cooperate with the Guardian Ad Litem. However, what you say to the Guardian Ad Litem is NOT protected by attorney-client privilege. At the temporary hearing, the Judge is likely to also decide how the Guardian’s fees will be handled. Typically, both parties are ordered to contribute to the fees. The Judge may also order the parties or other key adults in the case to take drug tests. 

Tell your attorney the truth about your situation, even facts that you think may hurt your case. If your attorney does not know these things, he or she cannot represent you effectively. Some facts that could hurt you include dating someone else while you are still married, drug use, and recent criminal history. What you post on social media can be used against you in Court. In the next segment, we will discuss the forms used at temporary hearings and how you can help your attorney represent you.

In Farmworkers’ Shoes

This summer has been excruciatingly hot. For me that usually means burning myself on the hot leather seats of my car or complaining about the sunburn on my face. For farmworkers, that means another ten to twelve-hour day in 98-degree weather. Has anyone warned them of sun poisoning? The link between overexposure to sun and cancer? Is sunscreen provided? I ask myself these questions as I run to my air-conditioned car to escape the heat. The car’s thermometer reads 100 degrees, my phone buzzes with a heat index warning of 117. I blast the AC, but for the brief two minutes it takes to cool down, I’m drenched in sweat. My face is flushed. In just two minutes I am completely overwhelmed by the heat. My next thought races to the workers who are in the fields, experiencing the same heat but with no opportunity for relief.

These same workers return to their housing in the late evenings, the humidity still clinging to their damp skin. Despite the arduous labor they have just endured, they say, “buenas tardes, pasen por favor.” They invite us into their kitchens, where workers are eating, cracking jokes, or simply enjoying a minute off of their feet. Despite the mundane legal information we are sharing, they give us a listening ear and ask questions. We get around to talking about their contract guarantees, the work conditions, and if time is on our side, we can hear about their families and the difficulties of being apart from them during their 10-month contracts. In their greeting smiles, friendly invitations and curious eyes, I get to experience the warmth and kindness of the workers. Even in the face of injustices and unfulfilled promises, they’re just happy to be here and happy to have us there too. I can’t put a number on how many times I have heard “gracias por estar aquí, por su ayuda.” They’re glad to know that someone is invested in their well-being.

2019 Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) intern

South Carolina Legal Services, Migrant Unit

The Public Benefits Unit

The South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) Public Benefits Unit met in the Columbia office in April 2019 to learn about SNAP Benefits for their first unit meeting of the 2019 calendar year. Attorney Bridget Owens with SC Appleseed provided an overview of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-formerly known as Food Stamps) in South Carolina and how it can help SCLS clients.

Representing clients in SNAP denial and cessation cases is a critical part of bridging the hunger gap in South Carolina. One in seven people (679,990) and one in five children (202,110) struggled with hunger in South Carolina in 2017. [1] Access to healthy food is an even larger problem. In 2014, a report by the US Department of Agriculture revealed that more than 1 million low-income South Carolinians live in food deserts. Food deserts are defined as areas that are more than one mile from a grocery store in urban areas and more than ten miles from a grocery store in rural areas, and where there is limited access to other outlets including food hubs, mobile markets, farmers markets and corner stores.[2]

SNAP came to the forefront earlier this year with the early release of SNAP benefits due to the government shut down. SCLS and other community partners worked to inform our clients and other SNAP recipients that the early payments received for February were not bonus payments, and no additional SNAP benefits would be received until March 2019. We developed and posted flyers in all SCLS offices and educated our staff so they could keep our clients informed.

In addition to SNAP cases, the Public Benefits Unit provides representation to clients in Medicaid and Medicare cases, certain Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSDI) cases that are not usually served by the private bar, veteran benefits and other income maintenance cases.

If you have a public benefits issue, contact us to see if you are eligible for representation. You can apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake or call our statewide Intake Office at 1-888-346-5592.


[1] Feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/south-carolina

[2] http://newsstand.clemson.edu/mediarelations/clemson-extension-working-to-eliminate-food-deserts-through-feeding-innovation-program/

PUBLIC BENEFITS: Our Clients’ Lifeline

We, as legal services advocates, are constantly helping our clients with traditional legal issues like divorces, bankruptcies, evictions and landlord issues, consumer issues, etc. However, we must pay close attention to the importance of public benefits in maintaining our clients’ financial and emotional stability. Our clients are, by definition, low income. This means they may qualify for a wide array of benefits to which they are entitled, and, the loss of which can be devastating. Legal Services Corporation has always recognized the importance of public benefits and has mandated that South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) treat it as a “priority” issue. Nevertheless, those of us on the front lines are responsible for evaluating every client’s situation to ensure that each client receives all that he or she is entitled to, even if the initial legal problem has nothing to do with public benefits.

A common example of this is the effect that alimony may have on a client’s eligibility for housing, Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP) or SSI disability. It does a client little good to receive $400 a month in alimony if it means a loss of Medicaid or food stamps and an increase in their public housing rental costs. Any kind of monetary settlement, whether it be from a divorce or a consumer case, should be evaluated to determine how it may affect a client’s eligibility for public benefits.

Our intake service does a review for Medicaid and food stamps eligibility. It is then the advocates’ responsibility to follow up on this with the clients. We also consider other public benefits for which the client or any minor children may be eligible. For example, do any of the children have special needs? Are they eligible for special education services? What about healthcare benefits? Does the client have any health issues? What about health issues that prevent the client from working? Is the client eligible for Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income or vocational rehabilitation services?  

At SCLS, we have an advocate in every office who specializes in public benefits cases. We also have a state-wide Public Benefits Unit whose members are experienced public benefits advocates. Because we know that public benefits may be the lifeline for some of our clients, we know the importance of fighting for these benefits on their behalf.

Born ‘Unnamed,’ SC man hits legal snag to get REAL ID

Excerpts taken from an article originally published in The State on August 15, 2019.

Gerald Farrow Clinkscales never thought getting his new driver’s license would be stressful.

But then he started the process of getting a new REAL ID.

Clinkscales, who turns 66 in November, had no idea he was about to embark on a months-long process to get his ID, which would lead to him hiring an attorney and waiting for a judge.

That process — nearly a year in the making — started when the DMV employee told Clinkscales, “I can’t take this birth certificate because your name isn’t on it,” and handed him back his slightly worn, wallet-sized birth certificate that shows his birth number, the county registrar’s name, his parents’ names and the one printed as his own: “Unnamed Clinkscales.”

Clinkscales, whose due date hovered around Christmas, was born prematurely in Greenville County on Nov. 18, 1953, leaving his mother, Loreda, and his father, Louie, unsure of whether he would survive, he said.

“So, they just put ‘Unnamed’ on the birth certificate,” said Clinkscales, the middle of six children and the only one with this dilemma.

The process of changing a birth certificate can be time-consuming, complicated and can be costly.

For starters, Leslie Fisk [managing attorney of South Carolina Legal Services’ Greenwood office] said clients must get their fingerprints made and pay for background, child custody and neglect and alimony checks, some of which can be waived through Legal Services and other nonprofits.

Other fees are charged, too, including a $150 court filing fee, unless a client can show they are unable to pay the charge.

“It’s also hard for people with low income to get rides and transportation and to have someone watch their kids,” said Fisk, who added it also can be traumatic for older adults to get their fingerprints taken.

Meanwhile, heavy caseloads for attorneys and Family Court that may meet once a month, particularly in the state’s more rural counties, can mean months of waiting. And, through the years, Fisk said, the state’s regulations on name changes have gotten tighter.

The process becomes overwhelming for people and “leads to people just giving up through frustration,” Fisk said.

In Clinkscales’ case, … they’re hopeful they’ll get a hearing by the fall.

Frustrated by the time lapse, Clinkscales said he’s considered simply changing his name to “Unnamed.”

But, he acknowledged, “I would have to change my Social Security card, my bank records. It would make it even more complicated.”