Friday’s Feature: Wills for Heroes

Annette Marie Long Rolon sent a message to the members of Montgomery County

Paralegal Association (MCPA).

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Subject: Wills for Heroes – No legal experience needed

Attention MCPA Members

Interested in a Unique Pro Bono Opportunity:

The Pennsylvania Bar Association is seeking assistance from paralegals for its

Will for Heroes Program. This pro bono program provides free Wills and Powers

of Attorney to First Responders (firefighters, police officers, EMT) at the

first responder’s site, with computers and printers and other supplies that they

bring along with them. Volunteers are recruited to assist with the preparation

of the documents as well as witnessing and notarizing so that each first

responder leaves with a complete set of legal documents.

There is one event scheduled in Montgomery County in September:

Saturday, Sept. 25 – Montgomery Township Fire Department, Montgomeryville

The following events are scheduled in Bucks County in July, August and

September:

Saturday, July 31 – Bensalem Rescue Squad, Bensalem

Saturday, Aug. 7 – Trevose Fire Company, Trevose

Saturday, Aug 28 – Trevose Fire Company, Trevose

Saturday, Sept 11 – Public Safety Training Center, Doylestown

The events run from 9:00 – 5:00, with training from 9:00 – 11:00 and

appointments beginning at 11:00. Witnesses and notaries do not need to be there

before 11:30, as the first appointments usually take about an hour. Paralegals

with trusts and estates experience who would like to assist with preparation of

documents with one of the attorneys would need to be at the training at 9:00.

Lisa Shearman, Esquire is the Wills for Heroes Coordinator for Bucks and

Montgomery Counties. If you have any questions or would like to volunteer,

please contact Lisa directly at 215-576-1730 or las@plotnickellis.com.

To learn more about the Wills for Heroes Program, visit http://www.facebook.com/l/a26ceVCt7upgu7dtYKQM2oRzjvg;www.willsforheroes.org

or the Pennsylvania Bar Association website at http://www.facebook.com/l/a26ceuBQD61xpqOznEcF3yS8KKw;www.pabar.org/public/yld/Projects/willsforheroesyld.asp.

Thank you for your help.

Wills for Heroes programs provide essential legal documents free of charge to our nation’s first responders, including wills, living wills, and powers of attorney. By helping first responders plan now, they ensure their family’s legal affairs are in order before a tragedy hits. The 501(c)(3) charitable non-profit Wills for Heroes Foundation supports these Wills programs, giving back to the community and “protecting those who protect us.”

Anthony Hayes, a partner at Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough, LLP, in Columbia, South Carolina, started the Wills for Heroes program shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Anthony emailed the Columbia Fire Department asking what lawyers could do to help that department. During an impromptu focus group, it became clear that there was a glaring need for estate planning services.

Since then, Wills for Heroes programs in ten states have provided more than 7,000 free estate planning documents for first responders. Because of the tremendous success of these programs, attorneys and bar associations across the United States started requesting assistance with implementing Wills for Heroes programs in their communities. In response, Jeff Jacobson and Anthony Hayes created the Wills for Heroes Foundation to oversee the nationwide expansion of these programs and connect volunteer attorneys with local first responders.

In August 2007, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (ABA YLD) tabbed the Wills for Heroes program its 2007-08 national public service program. In doing so, the ABA YLD is encouraging its affiliates and 144,000 members to work with the Wills for Heroes Foundation to bring this unique, much-needed program to their local first responders. For more information on the ABA YLD initiative, visit www.abanet.org/yld/wills.

Wills for Heroes programs provide free wills and other estate planning documents to first responders and their spouse or domestic partner. Qualified first responders include firefighters, police officers, paramedics, corrections and probation officers from federal, state, county, city and town departments and agencies. The Wills for Heroes Foundation encourages its affiliates to include retired and volunteer first responders in their programs.

Anatomy of a Wills for Heroes program

The Wills for Heroes program is unlike many other clinic or pro bono legal programs because we bring the program to the first responders’ doorstep. Working with department coordinators, the Wills for Heroes program provides this free service by bringing together first responders with attorneys, notaries and witnesses at a department station, training facility or headquarters on a predetermined event date, usually a Saturday. The department’s sole responsibilities are to provide the meeting space and coordinate the appointments.

In advance of the Wills for Heroes event, participants download and complete an estate planning questionnaire (compiled by estate planning experts in each state.) Receiving the questionnaire ahead of time is an important step in this process because it allows participants to think through a number of important decisions and discuss them with their spouse, partner, or other trusted friends.

Upon arrival at the Wills for Heroes event, the first responder signs in and executes a disclaimer. The participant is assigned to an attorney who reviews the questionnaire and inputs the information from the questionnaire into laptops loaded with the document assembly software platform HotDocs® by LexisNexis. The attorney reviews the draft estate planning documents with the first responder participant to insure that each person understands and agrees to what they are executing. Once finalized, the documents are signed, witnessed and notarized in a formal signing ceremony. On average, it takes about an hour to complete the estate planning documents. The Wills for Heroes program does not keep a copy of the participant’s documents or information.