Wills for Heroes: Protecting Those Who Protect Us

by R. Blake Hamilton
I recently attended the S.J. Quinney College of Law Career Fair on behalf of my firm, Stirba & Associates. While I was there, a first-year law student approached me and asked a surprising question. She, like many others in her class, was looking for opportunities to clerk after her first year of law school. Yet when I asked her if she had any questions about my firm, the first question she asked was: “What type of pro bono work does your firm do?” I responded that all attorneys at my firm are encouraged to find opportunities to contribute to the community by providing pro bono legal work. I then proceeded to tell her about one such opportunity that I have had the privilege of participating in.
On September 11, 2001, more than 400 first responders gave their lives to save their fellow Americans. Out of that tragedy arose an amazing program: Wills for Heroes. The Wills for Heroes program provides free wills, living wills, and healthcare and financial powers of attorneys to first responders and their spouses or domestic partners.
Every day, in towns and cities across the nation, including here in Utah, first responders – firefighters, police, and EMTs – put their lives at risk to protect us. We were reminded of this truth on January 4, 2012, when six police officers were shot and one killed while executing a warrant in Ogden, Utah. The Wills for Heroes program allows us as members of the Bar to provide pro bono legal work as an expression of gratitude to those who sacrifice and put themselves in harm’s way to protect their communities – in our small way “protecting those who protect us.” In doing so we are rewarded.
On December 2, 2011, two first responders from Northern Utah were on hand at the Utah State Bar Commission meeting to thank the Commission for the Bar’s Wills for Heroes program. “Sometimes as first responders we’re so busy helping other people that we forget about ourselves,” said Captain Golden Barrett from the Hill Air Force Base Fire Department. “I want to say thank you very much for everything you’ve done for us. It really does make a difference.”
Utah adopted the Wills for Heroes program in 2006, the twelfth state to do so. Since that time, the program has provided free estate planning to more than 4,000 first responders. Volunteer lawyers in Utah have contributed 10,000-plus hours of pro bono legal work at events from Logan to St. George. Wills for Heroes events are scheduled for the third Saturday of every other month. A calendar of future events and further information about the Wills for Heroes program can be found by visiting the Utah State Bar Young Lawyers Division’s (YLD) informational website at http://www.utahbar.org/sections/yld/willsforheroes/Welcome.
A Wills for Heroes Event is a joint effort between a first responder department and YLD. The first responder department provides a contact person to disseminate information and coordinate appointments. The department also provides a classroom or a conference room with tables and chairs where the event may be held. YLD does the rest.
YLD emails the department contact a Wills for Heroes invitation to be sent to all first responders in the department. The invitation answers many frequently asked questions about the program. The first responders are asked to review and complete an estate planning questionnaire and an advanced health care directive prior to their appointment. By reviewing the questionnaire and directive ahead of time, all participating individuals are likely to consider the important decisions regarding their estate planning wishes with a loved or trusted individual prior to their appointment.
On the day of the Wills for Heroes event, YLD brings laptop computers that have been preloaded with specialized software that takes the questionnaire information and creates the living wills, and healthcare and financial powers of attorneys (all in about thirty minutes). Prior to the appointments with the first responders, YLD holds a training session in which attorney volunteers from the Bar are trained on everything they need to know to participate in this great volunteer opportunity. This training includes how to use the software and a primer on basic estate planning. It also qualifies for one hour of CLE credit (for first-time volunteers). YLD coordinates with the Paralegal Division of the Utah State Bar which ensures that all of the first responders’ estate plans are witnessed and notarized on the day of the event. YLD also provides the printers, paper, and all of the materials needed for the first responders to be able to walk out of their appointments with fully executed legal estate plans.
YLD thanks all those attorneys, paralegals, and the many first responder departments around the state who have made the Wills for Heroes program a success. YLD also looks forward to many years of Wills for Heroes events in the future based on the expressed interest in the program. If you haven’t had an opportunity to participate in the Wills for Heroes program, please find some time to do so. Let us not lose the ideals we had in our first year of law school, for, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

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