The most important decision of your life will be about what happens when you’ve reached its end.
A study conducted in 2007 shows only 45 percent of adult Americans have a will. While that number has held steady for years, an ABC News poll shows Americans are getting better prepared when it comes to having a health care power of attorney, or living will. Those numbers went from 17 percent in 1991 to 41 percent in 2012.
But even those numbers are not enough, particularly when it comes to the nation’s first responders. People who lay their lives on the line almost daily have an even greater need to be prepared, said Dom del Pino, Esq., of the Widener University School of Law.
Widener is sponsoring a Wills for Heroes estate planning event from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, at the fire house on Dover Air Force Base.
All police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics are invited, del Pino said, as well as correction and probation and parole officers. Sworn and civilian members, volunteers and paid, as well as active and retired personnel and their spouses or partners are eligible, he added.
A number of local attorneys, all of who are contributing their services, will be on hand to complete the necessary paperwork. When first responders leave the event, all of their documents will have been notarized and in effect, he said.
To schedule an appointment at the Wills for Heroes event, interested parties should call (302) 477-2016. Each appointment will take approximately 90 minutes.
A will means peace of mind
“This is a program designed to protect those who protect us by providing them with simple, basic estate plans,” del Pino said. “These people have careers that put them in the line of danger every day.”
While everyone should have a will, a personal power of attorney and a health care power of attorney, it is particularly important for people in hazardous professions.
“It’s important that families don’t have to struggle with making end-of-life decisions or settling estates when they should be focusing their energies on being with or caring for their loved ones,” del Pino said.
Having a will is the best and most efficient means of settling an estate because proper planning can save time and money, and prevent unnecessary conflict. It also helps an individual’s peace of mind, because he or she knows everything has been planned and accounted for.
Persons who die intestate, or without a will, often can have their wishes discounted by family members or overruled by the courts.
Page 2 of 2 - Del Pino cited one example where an older man had intended to complete a will, but never got around to doing so. He’d often said that since his children were grown, he wanted his estate divided up among his grandchildren. But when he died intestate, the courts gave his wife a percentage of the estate, and then divided the remainder among his grown children, who eventually squandered their entire inheritance.
“In the end, his wishes just weren’t honored,” del Pino said.
It’s often the same story when people do not have a personal power of attorney that allows a trusted individual to make financial and legal decisions, or a health care power of attorney, which gives instructions in case an individual can no longer make choices about their care.
“If you’re comatose or unconscious, incapacitated or cannot make rational decisions, without a power of attorney you have no one to make those decisions for you,” del Pino said.
With a health care power of attorney, those decisions already have been made, he said.
“No one can challenge what you wanted because you were fully capable of making your decisions” when the power of attorney is signed. “Everyone knows what your wishes are; everyone knows what to do,” del Pino said.
Anyone planning to come to the Wills for Heroes event also should bring paperwork to support their bequests, to include proof of ownership for real estate, bank account information, data on Individual Retirement Accounts or 401(k) plans and information necessary to direct donations to charities.
“We need the information to make the will as specific as possible, so that very little room for error is possible,” del Pino said.
Widener usually sponsors two or three Wills for Heroes each year, and is working to expand the program away from its Wilmington campus. The last local event was in Milford more than two years ago.
The Feb. 16 session was set up after the base fire chief suggested it be held at the base, located south of Dover.
Because the Wills for Heroes is on a federal installation, people must use the main gate and first register at the Visitor’s Center, adjacent to the gate. State- or federally-issued government identification is required; those planning to drive on base should have proof of insurance and vehicle registration available. People should take this processing time into account when arriving for their appointment, del Pino said.