'Wills for Heroes' program provides free basic estate planning to local emergency responders
WILLMAR -- Minnesota lawyers are showing their appreciation to emergency responders by providing free estate planning services. Members of the Minnesota State Bar Association are voluntarily helping responders prepare basic estate planning docume...
WILLMAR -- Minnesota lawyers are showing their appreciation to emergency responders by providing free estate planning services.
Members of the Minnesota State Bar Association are voluntarily helping responders prepare basic estate planning documents, including wills, powers of attorney and health care directives under a new program called Wills for Heroes.
The program is open to "first responders'' such as police officers, firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians and corrections officers. The service is provided free of charge.
The average cost of such service would be about $1,000.
"We wanted to find a way to show our tremendous appreciation for the daily sacrifice and dedication of first responders,'' said Patrick Kelly, past president of the Minnesota State Bar Association. "The Wills for Heroes program is our way of thanking them for their service.''
The Law Enforcement Memorial Association found that many first responders don't have wills or life documents.
That assessment is shared by David Moody, an attorney with Johnson, Moody, Schmidt and Kleinhuizen of Willmar.
"It's like most people: It's something that one would rather put off,'' he said.
Moody was among the attorneys who provided free service to responders when the Wills for Heroes program came to the Willmar Fire Station on Oct. 6. Attorneys helped responders and their spouses prepare 43 estate plans.
"Locally we had an excellent response,'' Moody said. "Quite a few people had no wills. Some people had them, but they hadn't been updated for many years, and they were really grateful for this opportunity to get their estates in order.''
One of those who benefited from the program was Ed Scherer, who has nearly 25 years of service with the Willmar Fire Department. Many of his colleagues are young people who probably hadn't considered having a will prepared.
"This is just something that you just never know in our business when something bad could happen,'' Scherer said. "It happened to a young firefighter in Melrose last year that lost his life.''
Scherer and others were given information sheets to fill out, and the attorneys typed the information into a computer program.
"It was just a real slick process,'' Scherer said. "You were done within 20 minutes to half an hour.''
Scherer said responders greatly appreciated the assistance.
"I thought it was neat that somebody was providing the service for us. It's nice that somebody thinks about the emergency people.''
The program originated in South Carolina after an attorney working with survivors of responders who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks found that many responders had no wills, plans or documents to help their loved ones.
Since that time, Wills for Heroes has spread to Arizona, Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia, where the programs are maintained by the state bar associations.
The Minnesota program began in late June. Most of the clinics have been held in the Twin Cities region, but the Willmar clinic was the first to be held outside of the metropolitan area.
The program has become so popular that clinics are planned around the state through 2009, according to Susan Link, program co-chair and a partner with the law firm of Maslon, Edelman, Borman and Brand of Minneapolis.
"We're trying to train additional groups of attorneys and having someone take responsibly for this,'' said Link. "It's a huge time commitment, but it's so worth it.''