Pennsylvania Bar Association Presents Community Service Awards to Five Attorneys

HARRISBURG (March 29, 2017) – Organizers of Wills for Heroes, a program providing free wills and other estate planning documents for Pennsylvania’s emergency responders, military veterans and their spouses or significant others, selected five attorneys for the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) Verdina Y. Showell Award for their dedication and years of service to the program.  

The award recognizes outstanding community service and commitment to the Wills for Heroes program and is named in memory of Verdina Y. Showell, a lawyer at Exelon Business Services Company LLC, who passed away suddenly on December 24, 2008. As Exelon Legal Department’s pro bono lead in Philadelphia, she helped to plan and execute the first Wills for Heroes clinic in Pennsylvania, which was held in 2008 at Exelon’s Limerick Nuclear Generating Station. Showell Award recipients for 2015, 2016 and 2017 were recognized during a Wills for Heroes clinic on March 11, 2017 that was hosted by PECO Energy Company at its Gas Training and Fire Academy in Conshohocken. Those honorees were:

Allegheny County 
Julianne Cutruzzula Beil of Pittsburgh, Wills for Heroes county co-coordinator and attorney at Cutruzzula & Nalducci
Amy Rees of Pittsburgh, Wills for Heroes county co-coordinator and attorney at Heritage Elder Law & Estate Planning LLC

Chester County
Jodi Dyan Oley of Downingtown, Wills for Heroes county co-coordinator and attorney at Eckert Seamans
Courtney Wiggins of Coatesville, Wills for Heroes county co-coordinator and attorney at Mauger & Meter

Montgomery County 
Crystal M. Fritsch of Glenside, attorney at Pepper Hamilton LLP

“The efforts of dedicated volunteers like our current honorees have played an integral role in the success of the Wills for Heroes program in our state,” said Lisa Shearman, co-chair of the Wills for Heroes program in Pennsylvania and a partner at Hamburg Rubin Mullin Maxwell & Lupin in Lansdale. “Thanks to their commitment to the program and years of service, we have been able to help thousands of paramedics, EMTs, firefighters, police, veterans and their families ensure their legal affairs are in order before a tragedy strikes.”

“The Wills for Heroes program in Pennsylvania would not be successful or continue to be successful without our honorees and the many dedicated volunteers, all of whom spend countless hours each year volunteering with us—oftentimes missing things in their own professional and personal lives to provide this essential service to our heroes,” said Sandy Romaszewski, co-chair of the Wills for Heroes program in Pennsylvania and a partner at Fox Rothschild in Philadelphia.  
The program was initially brought to Pennsylvania by Daniel J.T. McKenna, a partner at Ballard Spahr LLP in Philadelphia and president of the Wills for Heroes Foundation, a national nonprofit that provides estate planning documents for veterans, first responders and emergency personnel. McKenna was honored with the Showell Award in 2014, as well as the Sandra Day O’Connor Award, for his work with Wills for Heroes.
The Pennsylvania Bar Association Young Lawyers Division adopted Wills for Heroes in 2008 as one of its major community service projects. To date, the program has provided wills and other estate planning documents to more than 10,000 first responders, military veterans and their spouses or significant others.

Despite the inherently dangerous nature of their jobs, an overwhelmingly large number of emergency responders — approximately 80 – 90% — do not have wills. This figure is based on experiential data from state and national first responder organizations. 

Wills for Heroes events are being held in Pennsylvania communities upon request of leaders from local police, fire and emergency medical personnel organizations, military veteran organizations and county bar associations. On a scheduled day, a team of lawyers bring computer laptops to a meeting location and spend at least an hour with each participant who pre-registers to attend the event.  Volunteer non-attorneys who serve as witnesses, notaries and event organizers also are crucial to the success of each clinic.

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 a final review by an estate planning lawyer and any necessary corrections are made, the will is printed, signed and notarized. 

Upon request, lawyer volunteers also work with each participant to prepare a healthcare power of attorney and an advance medical directive, often called a “living will,” which specify 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 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 or unable to handle his or her financial matters.