Wills for Heroes – Providing Valuable Community Service to First Responders
The St. George Wills for Heroes Event
On March 14, 2008, members of the Utah State Bar donated their time and talents to create wills and other estate planning documents for police officers, firefighters, and other first responders in the St. George area through a new pro bono program instituted by the Young Lawyers Division and the Wills for Heroes Foundation®.
Using laptop computers and software on loan from Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP, and LexisNexis, as well as document templates created by estate planning attorneys Deacon Haymond of Jones, Waldo, Holbrook & McDonough and Mark J. Morrise of Callister Nebeker & McCullough, attorneys met one-on-one with first responders and their spouses or domestic partners at the St. George Police Station to prepare free basic wills, health care directives, and financial power of attorney documents. Members of the Paralegal Division were also on hand to notarize and witness documents completing the process. Over forty participants left with finalized estate planning documents.
Wills for Heroes Foundation co-founder Jeffrey Jacobson attended Utah’s first Wills for Heroes program and praised the YLD for putting on a “flawless event.” Said Jacobson, “I watched as the first responders, some hesitant at first, one by one left the event with a clear sense of relief and gratitude knowing that their loved ones are now protected in case the unthinkable should occur.” St. George Police Officer Tyrell Bangerter: “This is an awesome program. I’ve been married for two years and I’ve thought about doing a will but it was more money than I could spend at the time. This way we get the service for free with no strings attached. The fact is we could be gone any moment, no one knows, and now my estate is at least taken care of if that does happen.”
In celebration, St. George Mayor Daniel D. McArthur proclaimed March 14, 2008 as “Wills for Heroes” Day, by presenting a formal Proclamation to Bar President V. Lowry Snow, on behalf of the Young Lawyers Division. A copy of the Proclamation is posted on the YLD Wills for Heroes website.
The Wills for Heroes Foundation®
The Wills for Heroes Foundation® was co-founded by Anthony Hayes and Jeffrey Jacobson following the events of September 11, 2001, after Hayes learned that many of the first responders who died did not have wills. Jacobson explained at the Spring Convention in St. George that experientially, fewer than 80% of all first responders have wills. Since 2001, Wills for Heroes programs have provided more than 7,000 estate planning documents to first responders nationwide. The Wills for Heroes Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable non-profit organization, provides support, services, financial assistance and supplies to qualified first responders and their families in the United States. These first responders include firefighters, police officers, paramedics, corrections and probation officers from federal, state, county, city and town departments and agencies, whether actively employed, retired, or serving as volunteers. The Wills for Heroes Foundation provides the tools, knowledge and relationships with national first responder organizations to help establish Utah’s Wills for Heroes program which is sponsored and administered by the Young Lawyers Division of the Utah State Bar. The Wills for Heroes Foundation has an exclusive agreement with LexisNexis to provide free HotDocs® software and development services to all bar associations participating in the program. More information about the Wills for Heroes Foundation is available at www.willsforheroes.org.
What is a Wills for Heroes Event?
Wills for Heroes programs are unique because they bring pro bono service events directly to the first responders. The Wills for Heroes program pairs attorneys, notaries, witnesses, and first responders at a department training facility or station, on a predetermined date. A department’s limited responsibilities include providing the meeting room and coordinating first responder appointments. Prior to the event, participants download from the YLD website an estate planning questionnaire and bring it completed to the event. Completing the questionnaire ahead of time allows participants to discuss and contemplate important decisions related to their estate plans before the event.
Upon arrival at the event, first responders sign in and execute a waiver. First responders are then assigned to individual attorneys who review the completed questionnaire and input the information into laptops preloaded with the HotDocs® software. The attorney and first responder review the documents together to ensure the person understands and agrees to what they are executing. Once finalized, the documents are signed, witnessed, and notarized in a formal ceremony. In Utah, the entire process usually takes about forty-five minutes to complete. The Wills for Heroes program does not keep a copy of the participant’s documents or information.
HotDocs®, Wills for Heroes, and the Morrise Family – a Utah Connection
Wills for Heroes events rely on volunteer attorneys for their success, most of whom have limited estate planning experience or expertise. Thus, a valuable part of the Wills for Heroes program is the training provided to volunteer attorneys in basic trusts and estates law, and a brief training session on the LexisNexis HotDocs® software. HotDocs® takes the complex estate planning templates and transforms them into an easy-to-use “interview” which guides the volunteer attorney through the process to produce an automatically filled-in will or other document. The templates for the Utah trusts and estate documents were painstakingly created with careful attention to the recent 2008 Utah State Legislative session, which passed laws affecting some of these documents as recently as one week before the St. George event. As a result of these changes, HotDocs® was updated to conform to these changes. The Utah State Bar has approved CLE and NLCLE credit for this training.
HotDocs® software’s origins date back to a pioneering research project by an undergraduate computer science student, Marshall Morrise. The J. Reuben Clark Law School hired Marshall in 1979 as a programmer on a project to try to bring computers from law firm back-offices to attorney desktops. Marshall and the two professors he worked for, Larry C. Farmer and Stanley D. Neeleman, developed an early-but-high-powered document assembly product called CAPS. In 1987, the dean of the law school invited Marshall to take the CAPS technology and make a commercial go of it. With Farmer and two computer programmers as partners, Marshall launched Capsoft Development. Matt Morrise, Marshall’s brother who worked with him at Capsoft, came up with the idea of developing a very simple product that would run inside of WordPerfect (and later, Microsoft Word). Capsoft developed this groundbreaking technology, and HotDocs®, was first released in the fall of 1993. The Morisse brother’s company and the HotDocs® technology was subsequently acquired by LexisNexis. Marshall continues to manage the development team that produces HotDocs and other products, all from his Utah home base.
The relationship between Wills for Heroes, HotDocs, and the Morrise family has grown together in an interesting way. When Anthony Hayes began the Wills for Heroes movement shortly after 9/11, the first wills he produced were based on modified versions of his law firm’s HotDocs templates. Once Jeffrey Jacobson partnered with Hayes, Jacobson approached LexisNexis seeking a contribution of both HotDocs software and development assistance. At that time, Marshall Morisse’s son, Matt Morrise (not to be confused with Marshall’s brother Matt), worked for LexisNexis on the HotDocs consulting team and received the assignment to do the Arizona Wills for Heroes documents under Jacobson’s direction. After the younger Matt Morrise left LexisNexis to complete his physics degree and prepare for law school (he is now a first-year student at the J. Reuben Clark Law School), Marshall Morrise became the LexisNexis Wills for Heroes point of contact and has since worked closely with Jacobsen and Hayes performing extensive software and template development work.
Yet another Morrise is also intimately involved with Wills for Heroes: Mark J. Morrise, a trusts and estates attorney at Callister, Nebeker and McCullough in Salt Lake City. Mark Morisse, a fellow with the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, past chair of the Estate Planning Section of the Utah State Bar, and member of the Salt Lake Estate Planning Council, was intimately involved in the creation of the HotDocs trusts and estates templates, sample documents and the first Utah Wills for Heroes event. Mark Morrise worked closely with Deacon Haymond in preparing Utah’s Wills for Heroes documents, which are being heralded as the new gold standard for new Wills for Heroes programs across the country.
The Morrise family’s service is not limited to that of the men. Marshall’s daughter Jenny, a recent graduate of BYU with a degree in secondary math education, worked as an intern for LexisNexis and converted the Arizona Will template from HotDocs format to the model document.
Looking Forward – More Utah Wills for Heroes Events.
With the ease of use of HotDocs®, attorneys do not need to be trusts and estates specialists to volunteer for a Wills for Heroes event. As such, the Utah YLD is committed to spread Wills for Heroes across Utah as long as attorneys are willing to donate their time and first responders are interested in receiving this service.
Rachel Terry, one of the organizers of the St. George event said, “It’s a really great feeling to be able to serve those who serve us. As we take this program across the state, we will be able to use our legal skills to make a tangible impact on the lives of our first responders.” The Young Lawyers Division appreciates the leadership of Rachel Terry, Emily Smith, Stephanie Pugsley, and Michelle Allred in getting this monumental project off the ground in Utah. The YLD also appreciates the tremendous support of the Utah State Bar, the Utah Bar Commission, and the Utah State Bar support staff for their commitment to the Utah Wills For Heroes program. The YLD appreciates the generous donations, supplies, and technical support from Ballard Spahr and LexisNexis which made it possible to launch the Wills for Heroes Foundation in Utah.
In recognition of the time spent drafting the trusts and estate documents for Utah’s Wills for Heroes program, the Young Lawyers Division created the Mark J. Morrise and Deacon Haymond Wills for Heroes Volunteer Service Award. Recipients are chosen at each Utah Wills for Heroes event for contributing outstanding service and forwarding the purpose of the program. Recipients are recognized on the Young Lawyers Division website. The first four recipients were named during the opening remarks at the Spring Convention in St. George on March 14, 2008. They included: Rachel Terry, Emily Smith, Michelle Allred, and Marshall Morrise for their instrumental contributions in bringing the first Wills for Heroes event to Utah.
Attorneys and paralegals interested in volunteering at future events, or for a list of Wills for Heroes events and information, visit the YLD Wills for Heroes website www.utahbar.org/sections/yld/willsforheroes/Welcome.html
If you have a question that was not addressed on the website please contact: Tiffany Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sarah Spencer at email@example.com
All other Wills for Heroes questions should be directed to YLD President, Stephanie Pugsley at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contributing: Stephanie Pugsley, Jamie Nopper, Marshall Morisse
Photos: Rachel Terry, Stephanie Pugsley, Lori Nelson