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Pennsylvania Bar Association 'Wills for Heroes' Program Presents Award Honoring Memory of Early Volunteer, Offers Free Estate Planning Documents to Philadelphia Police Officers

Organizers of "Wills for Heroes," a program that provides free wills and other estate planning documents for Pennsylvania's emergency responders, will present their first "Pennsylvania Bar Association Verdina Y. Showell Award" recognizing outstanding community service and a commitment toward "protecting those who protect us." The award presentation will be made during a morning-long session of will preparation for 60 Philadelphia police officers.

WHO:     Lawyer volunteers from the Pennsylvania Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll L.L.P. and PECO/Exelon and family members of Verdina Showell, a Philadelphia lawyer and community volunteer who died unexpectedly last year.

WHAT:     Organizers of the Pennsylvania Wills for Heroes program will present the first Pennsylvania Bar Association Verdina Y. Showell Award to honor the memory of Showell, one of the first volunteers of the Wills for Heroes program.

Also, lawyers will provide free estate planning services, including development of wills and health care directives, to 60 Philadelphia police officers.

WHERE:     Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Hall, 1336 Spring Garden (corner of Broad and Spring Garden), Philadelphia

WHEN:     Friday, June 26, 2009

10:00 a.m. - Presentation of first Pennsylvania Bar Association Verdina Y. Showell Award to Showell's daughter, Nakiya. Also attending will be Showell's brother, Steven Faison.

9 a.m. to 12 p.m. - Free estate-planning services

Presenting the award to Verdina Showell's daughter will be Daniel McKenna, a Ballard Spahr attorney who serves on the board of the Wills for Heroes Foundation, a non-profit organization responsible for encouraging nationwide expansion of the program and the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Wills for Heroes coordinator.

"A long-time community service volunteer, Verdina instantly understood how valuable the Wills for Heroes program would be to the area's first responders," said McKenna. "Verdina quickly signed on to be one of the key organizers of the program's first event in the Philadelphia area. She really helped get the ball rolling on the Pennsylvania program."

In future years, the award will be presented to lawyers and legal professionals who work selflessly to make the Wills for Heroes program successful, McKenna said.

Wills for Heroes is a project of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and calls upon the expertise of lawyers throughout the state who are stepping forward to provide the free legal services. The project is co-sponsored by Ballard Spahr, which has designated Wills for Heroes as one of its public service projects.

Without a will, state law determines who receives what property from an estate and loved ones are faced with tedious paperwork and difficult decisions, program organizers said. Legal fees for preparing a will and other estate planning documents often run $1,000 or more.

Several state and national first responder organizations estimate that 80 to 90 percent of first responders do not have wills, and Pennsylvania has more first responders than any other state.

The Wills for Heroes program was founded by Anthony Hayes, a South Carolina lawyer who wanted to do something meaningful to help the country after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He met with South Carolina firefighters and noted a glaring need for estate planning services.

Wills for Heroes events are being held in Pennsylvania communities upon request of leaders from local police, fire and emergency medical personnel organizations and upon request of county bar associations. On a scheduled day, a team of lawyers will bring computer laptops to a firehouse or meeting hall and spend at least an hour with each participant who pre-registers to attend the event.

A participant sits with a lawyer to review a questionnaire that the participant has filled out in advance. Answers are entered into a computer-based program. The lawyer reviews the resulting document with the participant to ensure its accuracy. After any necessary corrections are made, the will is printed, signed and notarized.

Upon request, lawyer volunteers also will work with each participant to prepare an advance medical directive, often called a "living will," which specifies what actions should be taken for the participant's health in the event that he or she can no longer make decisions due to illness or incapacity.

In addition, lawyers will prepare a durable power of attorney, a document that gives another person legal authority to act on behalf of the participant if the participant becomes incapacitated. These documents also are offered at no cost to participants.

Lawyer volunteers are not permitted to solicit business from project participants.

With the new addition of Pennsylvania, The "Wills for Heroes" program is now offered in 21 states. The American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division selected the "Wills for Heroes" as its 2007-08 national public service program. The computer software used for the program is provided by LexisNexis.

Founded in 1895, the Pennsylvania Bar Association strives to promote justice, professional excellence and respect for the law; improve public understanding of the legal system; facilitate access to legal services; and serve the 29,000 lawyers who are members of the association.