Even when there is no will, volunteers from the Delaware State Bar Association will find a way.
To help veterans, first responders and senior citizens who do not have wills, advanced health care directives or powers of attorney, the association is sponsoring its first Wills Mega-Event from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, at the Shipyard Center, 500 Justison St., across the street from the Delaware Children’s Museum, on the Riverfront in Wilmington.
More than two dozen lawyers are volunteering their time to participate in the program, organizers said.
Attorney Albert Manwaring IV discusses the Sept. 22nd Wills Mega-Event.
Attorney Albert Manwaring IV discusses the Sept 22nd Wills Mega-Event.
“If you die without a will [or without an advanced health care directive], you have no input” on critical decisions, said attorney Albert H. Manwaring IV, who is coordinating the Wills for Veterans portion of the event.
“A little bit of stress in the planning process [of making a will] saves a lot of stress later on,” added attorney Dom del Pino, the Wills for Heroes coordinator.
This is the first bar association-sponsored event to attempt to reach so many different groups of people who need wills, said Susan Simmons, the association’s director of development and access to justice coordination.
The Delaware unit of Wills for Heroes, which serves first responders like police officers, firefighters and paramedics, has held six events of its own, four in New Castle County and one each in Georgetown and Milford, said del Pino, who heads the state’s Wills for Heroes group, based at the Widener University Law School.
The Sept. 22 event will be the second Wills for Seniors program. The first, held March 31 at Union Baptist Church in Wilmington, drew about 75 people, said Monica Horton, an attorney in the bar association’s Multicultural Judges and Lawyers section, which developed the program.
Veterans, first responders and senior citizens are not necessarily more likely than other demographic groups to need a will, but all have their reasons for putting off having important documents prepared, organizers said.
“You have to confront your own mortality, and people have a tendency to avoid these kinds of things,” Horton said. “The people I helped [at the first Wills for Seniors] said they either hadn’t gotten around to it, or they couldn’t afford it.”
Information about this month’s program is already getting around, with about 140 veterans, seniors and heroes already signed up, said Jacki Chacona, a staff attorney with Delaware Volunteer Legal Services, which is helping coordinate the event. “I’m getting up to12 calls a day,” she said.
“When I ask someone why they didn’t have this done before, they usually say it’s because they didn’t want to think about it,” del Pino said.
“Of all the groups in society, first responders probably need [wills and advance health care directives] the most,” said del Pino, who worked as a police communications dispatcher and volunteered as an emergency medical technician in New Jersey before entering law school. “Police officers and firefighters know the dangers of their work, that they could die on their next call.”
Manwaring, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve who has served in Iraq, said current servicemen are more likely than veterans of the Vietnam era to have wills and other essential documents, if only because military officials are paying more attention to servicemen’s personal needs than they might have a generation ago.
Manwaring believes that veterans who served during the Vietnam or Korean wars are more likely than veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to register for the Wills for Veterans program.
But, he added, “if you have had a significant event in your life — a marriage, a divorce, the birth of another child — you probably need to make a change in your will.”
Having a will is important, Manwaring said, because the property of those who die without a will is distributed as specified by state law. If a married individual dies without a will, all of his or her estate would not pass directly to the spouse. Rather, a portion of the estate would be distributed to surviving parent(s) or children or siblings. Any portions passing to children or siblings would be distributed in equal shares.
Also under state law, if a sole surviving parent dies without a will, the Court of Chancery would be responsible for naming a guardian for any child under age 14, while children age 14 and older would have the right to ask the court to name a guardian of their own choosing.
“If you don’t like these defaults, then you need a will. If not, you’re leaving [property distribution and guardianship] up to the state of Delaware,” Manwaring said.
Similarly, individuals who do not have an advanced health care directive are, in effect, surrendering any say in their medical treatment should they be unable to communicate their wishes because they have a terminal medical condition or become permanently unconscious. In such cases, state law sets a priority listing, starting with the spouse, who is authorized to make decisions about treatment.
Anyone who makes an appointment for the Wills Mega-Event will have their wills and other documents completed on the spot — signed, witnessed and notarized, in effect and ready to take home, Horton said. Appointments take about an hour, she said.
If more people request appointments than can be accommodated, their names will be placed on a waiting list and they will be notified when another event is scheduled, Chacona said.
A Wills for Heroes program will probably be held in late October in Kent County, most likely at Dover Air Force Base, but a date has not been set, del Pino said.
Organizers said there is interest in holding a Mega-Event in Kent or Sussex counties, “but it’s not going to be this year,” Chacona said.
“This is the first time we’ve combined all three programs,” she said. “If it goes smoothly, then I think we will plan something for downstate.”