Founded in Spokane, veterans estate planning clinic expands
Free event will be held in five cities this yearSeptember 25th, 2014
The Washington Veterans Will Clinic, happening in October, has grown to include more cities around the state in this, its third, year.
The first clinic took place in October 2012 in Spokane. Last year, a clinic was held in Wenatchee, Wash. as well as Spokane. This year, clinics will be in Spokane on Oct. 4, Wenatchee and the Tri-Cities on Oct. 25, and Seattle and Olympia on Oct. 18.
The clinic here will be held at the Gonzaga University School of Law, at 721 N. Cincinnati on the Gonzaga campus. It will offer services to veterans of all the U.S. Armed Forces and their spouses, says Jacob Brennan, co-founder and program chairman of the clinic and an associate attorney at Spokane law firm Etter, McMahon, Lamberson, Clary, & Oreskovich PC.
Close to 90 clients were served at the first clinic and nearly 150 at the clinic in 2013, Brennan says. This year, the group is hoping to hit a sweet spot of 80 to 100 clients, he says.
“Last year was pretty gangbusters,” Brennan says. “That’s probably the most we could do … it was a pretty long day last year.”
In Spokane, there were about 35 volunteer attorneys at the clinic last year, and about 40 to 50 volunteer law students, he says. About nine notaries also turned out for the event, and a few volunteers from the general public. Brennan says he’s expecting about the same this year.
“We had a full slate of volunteers,” he says.
Brennan, who isn’t a veteran himself but who has family members who have served, says the clinics are two-pronged. First, veterans can meet with volunteer attorneys and go over their drafted estate planning documents, sign them, and have them notarized.
The other aspect, Brennan says, involves other service organizations that set up booths at the clinic to talk with veterans about their options.
Veteran’s organizations that will be at the Oct. 4 clinic are the Spokane chapter of the Vet Center, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Washington State Veteran’s Cemetery, which is a division of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs. The Red Cross and military community support organization Army OneSource also will be at the event, Brennan says. Printed materials from the Veterans Justice Outreach and other service groups will be available as well, he says.
Prior to the clinic, veterans and their spouses can go to the clinic website at www.wavetswillclinic.com and fill out an intake form, Brennan says. Volunteer attorneys then use the intake form to draft the client’s estate documents.
“We have draft documents that are prepped ahead of time,” Brennan says. “The client fills out the intake form online, and with that information, we create a rough draft. Then any changes are made at the clinic.”
Brennan, who graduated from Gonzaga School of Law in 2010, says the clinic first came about three years ago when Angela Traina, a Fairchild Air Force Base representative of the Reston, Va.-based Army OneSource organization, approached the Young Lawyers Division of the Spokane County Bar Association.
“We were approached about doing some sort of legal aid program for veterans,” says Brennan, who was a trustee of the Young Lawyers Division at the time, and currently serves as its president. “It was an absolute yes. We immediately partnered with Gonzaga law school and the Red Cross, and just went from there.”
The group quickly thought of offering estate planning assistance, Brennan says, because most active military personnel can get free estate planning assistance through their respective branches, but veterans don’t have access to the same service.
“It’s also something people can come do in a day and help out,” he says. “It’s not an ongoing representation in court.”
Traina says that active military members aren’t turned away from the event if they come seeking estate planning services as well.
She also says that because many veterans don’t live on or near a military installation or large urban area, they might not have access to veteran’s service organizations. As part of that, they might not have access to, or the funds for, estate planning documents, she says.
“The wills actually cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000 apiece,” she says. “In total, we’ve had 319 service members or spouses receive their estate planning documents from the clinic … we have found this need is vital in Washington.”
Traina, who’s a military spouse, says part of the overall goal of the clinics is eventually to be able to reach the veterans living in outlying areas around the state.
“We have over 600,000 vets that live here (in Washington state), and just over 400,000 of them are war veterans,” Traina says. “With that many here, and not just living in urban areas, our goal is to provide these will clinics across the state.”
Veterans of any of the armed forces, including reserves, and their spouses qualify for the clinic, Brennan says.
“Some services won’t take those with a less than honorable discharge,” he says. “We just require military service.”
Veterans have to show some proof of their service, Brennan says, and a marriage certificate if their spouse is also getting documents.
Seth Maier, of Suncrest, served in the U.S. Navy from 1997 to 2005. He also works as a veterans’ representative for employment and training service WorkSource Spokane. Maier attended the will clinic held at Gonzaga law school last October, he says.
Maier decided to come to the clinic because he owns several properties and has a family, but has never had a will, he says.
“I had that what-if moment,” he says. “I got an email about this free will clinic, so I immediately enrolled.”
Maier says he recommends that any veteran without a will take advantage of the clinic.
“I think everyone needs to have a will, but especially if they have real property, like a home, or a home with a mortgage, or recreational land,” he says. “If they have real property, it’s really important to make sure it goes to the right person.”
Maier says advanced directive counsel also is available, as well as other forms of legal advice and referrals.
“It wasn’t just the will planning,” he says. “It was an entryway into, ‘Let me ask you a couple questions,’ and they’re like, ‘Here’s someone you can call.’”
Brennan says the group expects to keep the event an annual one.
“I think it’s a good way to keep volunteers interested, if it’s just once a year, so we don’t get volunteer apathy,” he says.
Brennan says the group would like to expand the clinic into other areas of the state.
“We’d like to hit Vancouver and Everett,” he says. “Those are two markets we’ve discussed.”
In Eastern Washington, the clinic possibly could be expanded next to Yakima or Walla Walla, he says.