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Civic Impact

Do you have your act together? Pittsburgh parents make creating a will easier and more affordable

This past January, Andrew Fisher--a physician living in Friendship--was driving on an icy Turnpike when he found himself part of a 12-car pileup. As he climbed out of his vehicle to check on the condition of others, he was struck from behind, killed instantly. He was 35 years old.
 
Unfortunately, the Fisher family had not drawn up a will or gotten other formal paperwork in order. They aren't alone in this--according to a 2013 poll from Rocket Lawyer, only 39 percent of Americans have a will, let alone power of attorney, a living will or life insurance.
 
As Andrew's wife, Elly, faces her grief over losing her husband, she also has to spend thousands of dollars and navigate probate court in order to settle her husband's estate. "We're facing the possibility that the state of Pennsylvania will make me segregate some of our savings for the children," she says.
 
Obstacles to Organization

A lot of us are uncomfortable about the idea of this sort of paperwork. It's morbid and unpleasant. Nobody wants to sit down and think about who would take care of our children in the event of a tragedy.
 
Even when people do realize the importance of getting their act together, many couples are deterred by the cost. Drawing up this paperwork with a lawyer costs about $800, depending on the complexity of a couple's estate.
 
"We had looked into doing it before, actually met with a lawyer and spent an hour and a half discussing all of this paperwork," says Nadine Champsi Carl (of Pittsburgh Mommy Blog). "When we found out that filing with that law firm would cost nearly $1,000, we realized we just couldn't afford to do it at that time."
 
There are DIY options for folks who are unable to afford a lawyer. Numerous books and websites offer templates for wills, living wills, and power of attorney. But young families are often tripped up by the logistics of the DIY option.
 
Many of these documents require three witnesses not named in the document in addition to a stamp from a licensed notary. Carl, like most parents with young children, felt overwhelmed by the idea of coordinating childcare in addition to a time when she, her husband and any potential witnesses they needed would all be available at the same time.

The Answer: Family-friendly signing events

This past January, the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library hosted a Get Your Act Together event.
 
Four mobile notaries set up shop at tables in the front of the play space and families brought prepared paperwork they'd downloaded from legal sites or library books. They signed and served as one another's witnesses while their children all played together in a safe space.
 
Shaken by the death of Andrew Fisher just weeks before, many young couples in the area jumped at the opportunity to attend. The event reached capacity within hours of the announcement.
 
Elly Fisher agrees such events are important for young families. She says: "I think that anyone who's been upset about Andrew's death should at least make sure to have a conversation with their partner. After the death of a spouse, there is so much grief that it would be a gift to your partner and loved ones to leave a document that details your wishes so they don't have to make those decisions."

Families interested in a Get Your Act Together event can come to the next signing on April 28 at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library (5401 Centre Ave, Shadyside) Bring completed documents to have them signed and notarized at the event. Registration costs $31.20 per person and includes 3 notary stamps plus the notary travel fee. The event is limited to 20 people; click here to reserve a space.
 
Also, you can find checklists and necessary forms here and here.
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