This week, October 24 – 30, is the 2010 National Pro Bono Celebration, sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service. In honor of this celebration, I wanted to take a moment to spotlight a wonderful program that my fellow Epilawgers (Maggie Green, Jamie Held and Jayne Sykora) and I are all privileged to be a part of – Wills for Heroes (http://www.willsforheroes.org/).
History of Wills for Heroes
Wills for Heroes (“WFH”) is a program that was started in South Carolina after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. After 9/11, Anthony Hayes, a partner at Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough, LLP, in Columbia, South Carolina, determined that there was a strong need for estate planning services for first responders. As such, he established the WFH program, which provides free estate planning services for first responders, such as police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical responders, and their spouses. Currently, there are twenty-four states that offer a WFH program.
Minnesota Wills for Heroes
Minnesota established its WFH program in 2007 and to date has served nearly 4,000 first responders. The success of Minnesota’s program can be attributed to the numerous volunteers that lend their time throughout the year. In particular, the program has been fostered by the tireless efforts of two extraordinary women, Susan Link and Andrea Bischoff, both of the firm Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand, LLP.
Minnesota’s WFH program not only touches the lives of first responders, but also leaves an invaluable mark on the lives of its volunteers. I speak first hand as the time I have spent working with WFH has provided me with the reminder that a little of one’s time can go a long way in providing a difference in someone else’s life.
We, estate planning attorneys, believe that most everyone should have an estate plan in place. However, for first responders who risk their lives on a daily basis, creating an estate plan not only provides ease of mind for the first responder but also for his or her family should a tragic event occur. I was reminded of this as I read one of the testimonials from Arizona on the national WFH Foundation website (http://www.willsforheroes.org/testimonials.htm):
“My son, Officer Kevin L. Weeks used the Wills for Heroes service . . . in the Spring of 2006. Without these documents in place we, as a family, would not have known . . . what his final wishes would have been. Kevin was so very young when we lost him, and I am very proud of Kevin for taking upon the responsibility of using this service so we didn't have to make those decisions . . . while we were in such a state of shock. This is a very valuable service and I highly recommend that all eligible people take advantage of what Wills for Heroes has to offer to them.” – Paula Weeks, Mother of Tempe, AZ, Police Officer Kevin L. Weeks, E.O.W. 9-28-06
While Minnesota’s WFH program can proudly claim that it has served nearly 4,000 first responders, its volunteers and donors can take pride in knowing that the program has actually served nearly 4,000 families.
Volunteering at WFH clinics has been a rewarding experience for us Epilawgers. It is often the sentiment that perhaps we, as volunteers, take away more from the experience than those to whom we provide services. I asked the other ladies to reflect on their experience as WFH volunteers and here is what they reported:
“I always leave Wills for Heroes clinics with the sense that I have gained more than I have given. I benefit from meeting new people, sharing my knowledge, and developing my professional and interpersonal skills. I am grateful for the opportunity to help first responders and their families with creating their estate plans.” – Maggie Green
“Volunteering with WFH is my small way of saying thank you to those who serve us and put their lives on the line every day. It allows me to use my professional expertise in order to provide peace of mind to first responders and their families. The gratitude of each person helped is overwhelming. I am always amazed by how much I grow professionally and personally, by meeting new people and encountering new drafting situations. I often leave an event feeling that I have gained more than I have given.” –Jamie Held
“Volunteering has meant a lot to me: it has provided me with more knowledge and experience to assist me in my profession and I always leave a volunteer activity feeling satisfied and content. By dedicating a little time and expertise, you can make a huge difference in people's lives.” –Jayne Sykora
During times of economic stress, donating money to charities can be difficult for individuals. However, donating a bit of one’s time not only benefits those in need but undoubtedly impacts the volunteer’s life. I encourage others to incorporate volunteer or pro bono work into his or her life. Challenge yourself to donate your time either on a weekly, monthly or annual basis!
For more information on how to volunteer for or donate to the Minnesota Wills for Heroes program or utilize its services, please visit: http://www2.mnbar.org/willsforheroes/index.asp
For more information on other Wills for Heroes programs or how to establish a program in your state, please visit: http://www.willsforheroes.org/
Photo: Thomas Hawk