Program Update: Uvalde Response

Over the past few months, SALSA volunteers have been hard at work assisting families in Uvalde with setting up trusts for their minor children. After the shooting at Robb Elementary last May, many corporations and businesses began raising funds for families in Uvalde. These funds were collected by local nonprofits and businesses and were eventually put together into a fund managed by the National Compassion Fund (NCF). NCF serves as a repository for these kinds of charitable programs, taking on the responsibility of determining where and to whom the funds should be distributed. After holding multiple townhall meetings and other meetings with stakeholders in Uvalde, NCF developed a protocol that would award the millions of dollars raised to families affected by the tragedy in different categories depending on the claimant’s proximity to the shooting. Because the vast majority of claimants would be children, however, the NCF protocol determined that minor claimants must have a trust fund set up in order to claim funds. These trust funds would protect the assets of the children until the age of 21, but permit expenditures for the health and safety of the child in the meantime. However, the legal expertise to create these trust funds – especially considering the need of many families to also retain access to public benefits programs, developed into a complex and emergent need for legal services in Uvalde over the past few months.

With the assistance of trauma informed intake professionals at Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid more than 90 trust cases were referred to SALSA in September and October of this year, and SALSA led the effort to find pro bono counsel to help set up trusts for minors and special needs trusts, while TRLA continued to advise clients about retaining access to public benefits. SALSA has engaged dozens of local volunteer attorneys, and–with the assistance of the state bar of Texas–recruited dozens more estate planning professionals from around the state. With lawyers from Amarillo to Houston, San Angelo to El Paso, and everywhere in between, SALSA volunteers have advised scores of Uvalde families, drafting close to 100 trust documents for children who were present at Robb Elementary during the shooting—primarily those children who were injured, but survived, children in adjoining classrooms, and children who were on the playground that was fired upon during the shooting.

Of the 94 pro bono attorneys who have accepted pro bono trust cases with SALSA from around the state, a few deserve particular recognition for going above and beyond to assist families as part of this project. These are Norton Rose Fulbright in Austin which committed to taking 10 cases on a short timeline, and Duncan, Bressler, & Williamson, Inc. in San Antonio, specializing in estate planning and trusts, whose relatively small staff took on five cases. In addition to all the attorneys who have been working with specific clients, we are also especially appreciative to the trust departments at Jefferson Bank in San Antonio and Wells Fargo for helping us train first time trustees about their duties and responsibilities, to Cameron Redding at Redding Law, PLLC for leading the teams working on specialized Special Needs Trusts, and to SALSA Super-volunteer Tanya E. Feinleib with Langley & Banack, Inc. for drafting initial trust templates for our volunteers.

On November 10th, we are partnering again with the legal professionals at Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid to host an in-person training event for trustees that will cover public benefits, the duties of trustees, and some basic investment advice to ensure that families are prepared to protect and grow the assets of the victims of this tragedy.

None of this would be possible without the tremendous efforts of SALSA Managing Attorney, Ryan Cox, the generous time provided by our volunteers and SALSA’s financial supporters who allow SALSA to take on unique pro bono initiatives like the response in Uvalde. SALSA extends our heartfelt thanks to everyone who has stepped up to respond to support families impacted by this terrible tragedy.

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