Wills for Heroes: How Paralegal Students Give Back to First Responders
Published on June 7, 2013 by Peter Tomala
As their title says, first responders are the first ones on the scene when an emergency strikes. Risking their lives to help others is an oath these heroes take when they sign up for the job. Unfortunately, a lot of first responders haven’t set up the necessary legal documents to protect themselves and their loved ones in case something grave happens.
The Wills for Heroes program launched shortly after 9/11 to ensure emergency personnel have essential legal documents, including wills, power of attorney and advanced health care directives. The Young Lawyers of the Utah Bar Association helps put on Utah’s Wills for Heroes campaign. Students from Broadview University’s paralegal program joined as witnesses for this year’s program, along with 30 other law professionals (including 16 attorneys) to assist personnel from the Utah Sheriff’s Department and Unified Police Department.
“[I] observed firsthand how a notary and witnesses worked in the process to verify wills, power of attorney documents and health care directives,” said Broadview paralegal degree student Rachel Thomas. “My experience overall was a good one because I learned a lot about the notary process of a will.”
Along with familiarizing themselves with the legal documentation process, the program became an eye-opening experience for some of the students. “What was most surprising to me was the number of long-term first responders and their spouses that had never had a will prepared,” said student James Bunten. “In their dangerous line of work, it was shocking to see people with 10, 15, even 20 years [of] service that had never considered having a will prepared.”
The one-day event reached more than 60 first responders in the Salt Lake County area and secured important documentation for themselves and their spouses. The ability to help those that help us is rewarding for the volunteers and also provides a hands-on, practical learning environment for our paralegal students.
“I had never been a part of anything like this before. I had never had the feeling of putting a legal document out into the real world,” added student Courtney Byrne. “After signing these wills I now have had the opportunity of being able to put a binding legal document into effect. I have always loved being a part of something that will happen in the future.”
Contributed by Michelle Quist, Paralegal Program Chair, Broadview University-West Jordan