Thursday, May 15, 2008

Firefighters, First Responders, and Free Wills

On May 11, 2008, the Chambersburg Public Opinion published an article entitled "Firefighters can make free wills", by Rob Luff, describing a pro bono service of the Franklin County Bar Association to provide personal & estate planning documents to firefighters.

This pro bono community program by the Young Lawyers Division, of the FCBA, is described on its website:
Firefighters put their lives on the line every day to protect their communities, yet national statistics show too few of them have taken all the necessary steps to ensure the future of their loved ones should anything happen to them.

A new program by the Young Lawyers Division of the Franklin County Bar Association will help ease that burden.

Through the Florian Project, attorneys will provide basic estate-planning documents -- simple wills, powers of attorney and living wills or medical directives -- to local firefighters at no cost to them.

Firefighters interested in the program should talk with their chief. * * *
The newspaper article noted the creation, and possible expansion, of the local bar association program by lawyers for first responders.
The program already has been implemented in Cumberland County, according to Carolyn Seibert-Drager, executive director of the Franklin County Bar Association.

When the FCBA decided to offer similar services, it chose to act through the Florian Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Va., that specializes in offering legal assistance to public safety workers.

The program has been operating for a month. The response has been positive from fire companies; according to Seibert-Drager, around 20 to 25 individuals have signed. * * *

Seibert-Drager said the plan is to keep the program running throughout 2008.

"We decided to start with firefighters," Seibert-Drager said. "We may look to extend to EMS (Emergency Medical Services professionals) and police officers." * * *
The article concluded with an invitation to that county's firefighters who qualify to benefit from the public service program:
The Florian Project is available to all firefighters in a fire company in Franklin County, as long as their estates do not exceed federal taxable guidelines.

Firefighters interested should talk to their fire chief or contact the FCBA at 717-267-2032 or

The model, pro bono project of the Cumberland County Bar Association, conducted in cooperation with the Floridan Foundation, was described in a Press Release, dated September 9, 2005, entitled "Cumberland County Bar Association, Board of Commissioners, Partner in Florian Foundation Project to Help" (Word format, 2 pages).

These projects by the FCBA and the CCBA may be new to Pennsylvania. But this idea is not new, nationwide.

Bar associations (either state or local) in at least eleven states already offer such programs in cooperation with the Wills for Heroes Foundation, based in South Carolina.

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 roots, rationale, and rewards of the Wills for Heroes public service program were described in a lengthy article published in USA Today on April 21, 2008, entitled "Attorneys lend a hand to emergency workers", by David Unze.

The ABA's Young Lawyers' Division program, offered in conjunction with the Wills for Heroes Foundation, is described on the ABA's website. Listed there are additional "states currently developing templates" -- Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, & Tennessee. See also: "Giving Back to First Responders --The ABA YLD 2007–08 Public Service Project" (September, 2007), by Daniel McKenna.

The American Bar Association promotes such pro bono projects, as evidenced by a Media Advisory, dated February 4, 2008, entitled "Young Lawyers to Draft Wills for Local First Responders".
The American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, together with the Wills for Heroes Foundation and the Beverly Hills Bar Association Barristers, will be drafting free wills for about 100 Beverly Hills firefighters and police officers on Saturday from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. PT at the Beverly Hills Fire Department’s Fire Station 1.

Part of the YLD’s 2007-2008 public service project, Wills for Heroes, this event will be held in conjunction with the ABA Midyear Meeting in Los Angeles, Feb. 6-12.

A creation of the Wills for Heroes Foundation, this unique pro bono program provides free wills and other basic estate planning documents to emergency first responders, their spouses and domestic partners.

To date, the Wills for Heroes Foundation has assisted more than 7,000 emergency first responders in several states including Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
If there are any other such programs operating or organizing in Pennsylvania, in conjunction with either of these two coordinating foundations, I would be interested to know details for posting here.

Update: 05/06/09:

In 2009, the Pennsylvania Bar Association, through its Young Lawyers Division, now sponsors a Wills for Heroes program, which "provides no-cost wills, living wills, and health care and financial powers of attorney to first responders and their spouses/partners."

The PBA-YLD web page for its "Wills for Heroes" project explains the new project, in planning since last summer.

For further information, see: PA EE&F Law Blog posting
PBA's Young Lawyers Sponsor "Wills for Heroes" (05/06/09).

Update: 08/03/10:

See my further posts regarding the Wills for Heroes program and workshops held or scheduled in Pennsylvania:
PBA's Young Lawyers Sponsor "Wills for Heroes" (05/09/09) and "Wills for Heroes" Workshops Multiply in PA & DE (08/03/10).