Successful 4 years with program helping local heroes with wills

For the past four years, county lawyers, notaries and witnesses have given back to local heroes by offering free wills to help bring them and their families piece of mind.

On April 7, 46 military personnel and first responders, with their spouses, met with county lawyers at the Old Lycoming Township Volunteer Fire Co. for the Wills for Heroes program and were able to leave with completed legal documents in around an hour.

“The documents are produced by the lawyers, notarized and witnessed and they walk out with an estate plan that’s good for 10 to 15 years,” Michele S. Frey, executive director of the Lycoming Law Association, said. “Once its done you can put it out of your mind and focus on these high risk jobs without thinking ‘if something happens to me, is my family ok?’ “

Kristine Waltz, an attorney with Dinges, Dinges and Waltz and coordinator for the program in Lycoming County, brought it to the area in 2015 with the help of the Lycoming Law Association after attending a seminar on coordinating a local effort.

“I know the sacrifices that EMTs and firefighters give,” Waltz, whose husband is a police officer, said. “I wanted to see what it was like and to see if I could get the program started here.”

Wills for Heroes began as a response to 9/11 and has grown to include ten states with lawyers completing over 7,000 free wills for heroes.

“So many first responders who died or who were disabled in the events of Sept. 11 didn’t have a will,” Waltz said.

Lycoming County attorneys have served 154 clients with free wills and the program has become so popular that every event has had a waiting list.

“If we did three events a year we would still be booked solid,” Waltz said.

Lawyers met early on the day of the event and spent two hours training before the clients arrived.

Clients then met with a team of two lawyers to write a last will, power of attorney and a living will.

For the lawyers, having a chance to help first responders and both active and retired military veterans while using their professional skills is a great opportunity.

“I see how unselfish a lot of these people are, I couldn’t do what they do,” Angela Campana Lovecchio of the Law Office of Angela Lovecchio, said. “It’s really fun. You get to share the comradery with other attorneys and it’s nice that you get to see other attorneys that want to give.”

The comradery of the event makes the program fun for the lawyers, but it also puts clients at ease who may be nervous to talk about death.

“Everyone was very welcoming through the whole thing,” Corporal Brian McGee, of the city police department, said.

“Its not something you want to think about but its a fact of life and you have to be prepared not only for you but for your family as well.”