Like many couples, Tom and Nancy Vonfeldt talked several times about planning their estate, and like many couples, that’s where the planning stopped.
“We would talk about it for quite a while, but nothing ever came of it,” Tom Vonfeldt said.
That’s where the University of Nebraska’s College of Law stepped in, hooking up veterans like Vonfeldt -- who served on a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion flight crew during the Vietnam War -- with law students looking to get practical experience while also serving a population in need.
Over recent weeks, the Vonfeldts and 13 other veterans received free counseling on drafting a will and naming a power of attorney through the Veterans Advanced Directive Clinic.
Not bad for simply calling a number at the bottom of a flier posted in Lincoln’s Veterans Affairs office on 70th Street.
“We were here for the VA music festival and they had some booths set up where I found out about the clinic and called the number,” Vonfeldt said. “I’m very happy I did.”
According to Ryan Sullivan, who teaches at the College of Law in addition to helping direct its clinics, the Advanced Directive Clinic serves several purposes.
First, law students eager to put their studies to the test are matched up with clients who need their help.
“(The students) have their nose in the book for two years, and they want some context,” he said. “They want to say ‘I am actually capable of taking what I learned and producing a product that is beneficial.’”
Second, the veterans receive free legal help preparing end-of-life documents, and those documents are immediately scanned into the VA’s database where they can be accessed by doctors across the country.
“They’ve done so much for us through their service, I thought this was a good way to teach students about the sacrifices they’ve made and to help them where they need it,” Sullivan said.
The confidence each of the three law students built in helping clients might have been outmatched only by the peace of mind veterans like Vonfeldt gain in having their estate planned.
Nicole Tegtmeier, a third-year law student from Davenport, said, “We have heard from the veterans we have worked with what a relief it is to have this aspect of their life taken care of and how they no longer have to worry about what might happen in the future if they didn’t have a will or these documents. It’s been a positive experience helping them through this.”
For Cory Masi of Bellevue, who worked with the Vonfeldts for a month before meeting them in person on Friday, the experience made her realize the impact an attorney can have on clients.
“People really want to help their families, they want to make sure the process is fast and easy for their families,” she said. “I have really seen that through what people have said to me: They do not want their families to be stressed when making end-of-life decisions.”
Kevin Ruser, who oversees the College of Law’s clinical practice, said the success of the first law clinic for veterans could pave the way for more clinics in partnership with the VA.
With 10 more veterans on a waiting list, Ruser said the group of three students who worked the clinic this time could be expanded to five students sometime later this year, with each student handling three clients.