First responders must prepare for worst by putting together living will
By Adam Brandolph
Published: Sunday, March 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Tony Weinmann likens himself to an auto mechanic who drives a jalopy.
The president of the Pittsburgh paramedics union said he routinely asks whether people have a living will so he can determine whether he can give life-saving treatment. But Weinmann doesn't have one himself.
“In the line of work I'm in, I know it's really important, but I never got around to getting one,” said Weinmann, 48, of Carrick. “You don't think about it when you're young. You have that theory that you're invincible. The next thing you know, something happens.”
Estate lawyers say first responders' preparation should extend beyond making sure they have the right equipment to treat a shooting victim or put out a fire. They need to prepare for the unfortunate reality that they could die in the line of duty.
“As recent news events will tell you, you never know what can happen when they respond to a call,” said Angel Revelant, a family lawyer at the Downtown firm Pollock Begg Komar Glasser & Vertz, who coordinates Wills for Heroes, a program of the Young Lawyers Division of the Pennsylvania Bar Association that provides free estate plans to emergency personnel throughout Allegheny County.
Weinmann was among more than 40 first responders and their spouses who spent about an hour with volunteer lawyers Saturday at the Medical Rescue Team South Authority station in Mt. Lebanon. The authority serves Baldwin Township, Castle Shannon, Dormont, Green Tree, Mt. Lebanon and Whitehall.
“I think it's a great idea,” said Weinmann, who is trying to coordinate another Wills for Heroes event for his union's 155 members. “You just don't know.”
First responder jobs are among the deadliest in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than 220 public safety and ambulatory care employees across the country died in 2011, the most recent statistics available.
Although it's unclear what percentage of them had wills, court records show Pittsburgh police Officer Paul Sciullo, 36, killed on April 4, 2009, while responding to a domestic disturbance call didn't have one. Neither did Penn Hills police Officer Michael Crawshaw, 32, who was killed a few months later on Dec. 6 while responding to a shooting, or Allegheny County police Sgt. Perry Vahaly, 44, who was killed in a motorcycle accident on Sept. 1.
Officials at the Pittsburgh Police Training Academy said a discussion of having a will is not in the curriculum, and they were not sure whether any of the instructors talk about it. Officials at the Pittsburgh firefighter's union, who are planning a Wills for Heroes event this year, did not return calls.
Edwin W. Russell, a Downtown estate planning attorney, said having a will and a living will is important regardless of someone's line of work.
Wills determine who gets an individual's assets upon death — from clothing and computers to personal bank accounts and real estate. They also spell out who gets custody of any children. A living will establishes if someone wants to be resuscitated or kept on life support, and whether someone wants to be an organ donor. Assets like life insurance, or retirement accounts — so-called non-probate assets — are determined not by wills but by beneficiary designations.
Without a will, the state makes decisions about an individual's assets through the “archaic” rules of probate, Revelant said.
“It might seem like a hassle and you don't want to think about it, but once people overcome that fear, that worry, and understand it's not that big of a process, they realize they're better off prepared.”
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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