Pictured L to R: Morgan Starr, Wills Clinic Law Student Coordinator, and Alison McConnon, SALSA Pro Bono Coordinator
SALSA’s Wills Clinic is a joint effort with volunteers from all parts of San Antonio’s Legal community including volunteer law students who help with initial intake, volunteer attorneys who represent the clients and draft the documents, board-certified estate planners who review all documents that are prepared and volunteer notaries and witnesses who assist with document execution. Each volunteer acts as a critical piece of the puzzle to ensure the clients receive complete estate planning services. The beauty of the Wills Clinic is that it is a low-threat way for the legal community to give back. Those who practice in estate planning can easily provide a service in an area that they are familiar with, but at the same time, the clinic gives new practitioners or lawyers who generally practice in another area of law a chance to learn about estate planning in a safe and guided environment, all while providing an important service to the community.
As times have changed with the COVID pandemic, SALSA’s Wills Clinic has evolved from a quarterly in-person clinic model into a rolling virtual clinic model. This new service delivery method has allowed SALSA to expand our client and volunteer base. SALSA receives client referrals from partner organizations, like Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Catholic Charities and Habitat for Humanity. The clinic helps low-income communities protect the assets they have, which promotes generational wealth, as well as make it known to the client’s family members how they want things to be handled when they cannot make decisions for themselves. Each client that utilizes SALSA’s Wills Clinic receives a complete estate plan, including their Will, Medical Power of Attorney, Statutory Durable Power of Attorney, Declaration of Guardian, Directive to Physicians, and HIPAA Authorization.
SALSA strives to make the volunteer experience as seamless as possible, engaging a variety of volunteers at different points in the case. When SALSA qualifies a client from one of our partner organizations, a law student volunteer assists the client with completing a questionnaire. The questionnaire covers information about how a client wants their estate handled, and who they want for their executor, power of attorney, and/or guardian, as needed. The law student gains valuable interview and issue-spotting experience by helping the client with the questionnaire and allows the volunteer attorney who will eventually take the case to have the benefit of a first draft of requested dispositions and appointments. SALSA’s law student coordinator, Morgan Starr says, “I enjoy the area and working with individuals who need help. This is why I love working with SALSA… [I get] the opportunity to continue to explore an area of law that interests me. “
After the client’s wills questionnaire is completed, SALSA staff sends a conflict check to the next volunteer attorney who has registered for the clinic (registration is available on a monthly cycle). Once the conflict check clears, SALSA staff sends an engagement letter to the client. The attorney will only be engaged for the creation of their simple estate plan, and the engagement letter defines the relationship between our client and their volunteer attorney. All work completed within the scope of the limited engagement is covered under SALSA’s professional liability policy.
Once the engagement letter is signed, SALSA sends the completed questionnaire and engagement letter to the volunteer attorney. From this point, the attorney and client work together to create a personalized estate plan draft. After the first draft has been approved by the client, a wills mentor office hours meeting is scheduled with a board-certified estate planner, one of our mentors who reviews the drafts with the client and the attorney. The mentor works with the volunteer attorney to make any suggested modifications to the documents and get them ready for signing. After an approved draft is completed, SALSA works with the drafting attorney and the client to schedule a will execution appointment at one of SALSA’s wills execution sessions every other Tuesday. A volunteer notary and two witnesses assist the client with executing the estate plan documents. Once the client has signed all of the documents in front of the notary and witnesses, the client walks away with a complete estate plan, and the volunteer attorney’s representation concludes.
The services provided at the Wills Clinic give clients peace of mind. Because each volunteer plays a key role in the clinic, the time commitment is limited, but the impact on the client’s life is significant. SALSA appreciates all of our volunteers who participate and help the process run smoothly so that we can continue to assist San Antonio’s most vulnerable populations.