Tuesday, February 11, Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport hosted its seventh annual “Wills for Warriors” event. For the past seven years, Stetson, Stetson Law students, St. Petersburg Bar Foundation and volunteer attorneys from the Community Law Program have assisted Stetson Law’s Center for Excellence in Elder Law in preparing free simple wills and advance health directives for low income veterans and their spouses aged 60 or older.
The Center for Excellence in Elder Law, headed by Professor Rebecca Morgan, was established to meet the increasing need for legal education and research in the field of law and aging. The center provides legal education to law students, attorneys, and judges in the field of elder and special needs law and produces scholarly research and writing on issues impacting those who are older and/or have special needs.
Professor Morgan works hand-in-hand with former Stetson Law graduate and Raymond James Chief Fiduciary Officer Gentry Byrnes. Byrnes sets up training for law students in preparation for this event.
“Training, learning, helping – that’s our intent,” said Gentry. “This is the best thing I’ve ever done, it’s my favorite event of the year; we get to give back to the community and it’s an absolute pleasure to be a part of this program.”
The service is available to veterans, their spouses and surviving spouses. The process takes about one to two hours in total. Clients are introduced to their volunteer attorney and law students, and the group then works further to understand the needs and wants of the client. After a discussion, the students get advice from the attorney present and draft the appropriate documents. At the end of the session the client walks away with legally official wills and advance health directives.
“The genesis of this program was a law student, eight or nine years ago,” explained Morgan. “The law student worked with ‘Wills for Heroes,’ a program that worked with first responders. So, she asked ‘Why not do this for veterans?’ The student then spearheaded the event with Gentry, who was able to reach out to her network within the St. Petersburg Bar Foundation and St. Petersburg Bar association.”
“Ever since we’ve started this, we have an overwhelming number of volunteer attorneys who want to help,” said Byrnes. “It’s the most difficult thing to have to call these attorneys back and tell them that we don’t have enough clients to use their services.”
Stetson Law’s Center for Excellence in Elder Law is still looking for participants to take part in another opportunity in a month or two. Please contact Jessica Zook at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 727-562-7888.