HARRISBURG (May 18, 2022) – 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, recently presented the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) Verdina Y. Showell Award to Hannah R. Suhr, assistant counsel for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, Office of General Counsel, during a ceremony at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia.
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 with Exelon Business Services Company LLC who was an early proponent of the Wills for Heroes program in Pennsylvania.
Suhr was recently appointed as a Wills for Heroes state coordinator for Pennsylvania by the 2021-22 PBA Young Lawyers Division Chair Paul D. Edger.
“Through her volunteerism, Hannah exemplifies what this program represents,” said Edger. “Since 2009 while a law student, she has directly helped thousands of people through her contribution of time and expertise to this important initiative. She also has helped bolster our volunteer list by recruiting others, including her husband and mother to truly make this a family endeavor. Her commitment to this community in need is exceptional and this award is well-earned.”
The program was initially brought to Pennsylvania by Daniel J.T. McKenna, who serves on the board of the national Wills for Heroes Foundation, the nonprofit organization responsible for encouraging national expansion of the program.
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 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.