Wills for Heroes--Answer the Call
By Daniel J.T. McKenna
Daniel J.T. McKenna is the ABA YLD public service project coordinator and practices in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, office of Ballard Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll.
On August 11, 2007, during the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco, the ABA Young Lawyers Division officially introduced its 2007–2008 Public Service Project, “Wills for Heroes,” a program created by Anthony Hayes and Jeff Jacobson that pairs volunteer attorneys with first responders who need help with estate planning. Since the creation of “Wills for Heroes,” the program has positively impacted first responders nationwide by fulfilling a real need in our communities.
In conjunction with the Annual Meeting, the ABA YLD held its first “Wills for Heroes” program of 2007 at a San Francisco firehouse. YLD and Wills for Heroes Foundation members attended a preliminary training course provided by a local trust and estates lawyer before their participation in the firehouse visit. Throughout the day, local volunteer attorneys helped thirty-nine first responders and their families to create estate planning paperwork using a LexisNexis system called HotDocs. Danielle Barger, a San Diego trusts and estates lawyer, quarterbacked the event and ensured that the testamentary documents complied with California law. Representatives from LexisNexis Cares also attended the event to answer any questions the volunteer attorneys encountered. Over the course of the day, members interacted with a number of first responders who recognized the importance of estate planning but had never taken the time to do it. Before leaving the firehouse at the end of the day, the group had already received requests to hold a follow-up event for first responders in San Francisco who could not attend.
The energy created by the event was tremendous and turned the media on its head by highlighting positive contributions of our legal community. As a result of an Associated Press article by a reporter who visited the firehouse that day, the Foundation has already received over ten requests from first responder organizations in California to hold “Wills for Heroes” programs in their areas.
I experienced the personal impact of the “Wills for Heroes” program as an alarm bell sounded at the firehouse. An announcement followed the bell that prompted virtually every firefighter to rush out of the room within seconds, leaving the remaining volunteer lawyers staring at empty seats. We looked around, quizzically wondering where the firefighters had gone and for what reason. Then, it dawned on me: not a single firefighter hesitated for even an instant before responding to the alarm. At first, they may have been unsure about what kind of emergency they were responding to, just as I was when attending my first “Wills for Heroes” event. But they knew they had been called on to protect someone and that it was their responsibility to answer the call—and that was all they needed to know.
“Wills for Heroes” reminds us that as attorneys we have a similar responsibility—to protect the members of our communities. And, it is time for each of us to answer the call. Local young lawyer organizations can easily and immediately implement the “Wills for Heroes” program. The ABA YLD and the Wills for Heroes Foundation can provide the necessary documents and materials to conduct the program and will ensure that the free software conforms to your state’s requirements. The Foundation will also assist you in developing partnerships with local first responders. Then, once the program is implemented, it is yours to manage as you see fit. In addition many firms provide pro bono credit for the time spent by attorneys on the program.
If you are interested in instituting “Wills for Heroes” in your affiliate, please visit www.abanet.org/yld/wills and complete the Wills for Heroes Implementation Forms, or contact Dan McKenna at mckennad@ballardspahr.com . Please also plan to attend the “Wills for Heroes” program at Fall Conference in Charlotte, which is being sponsored by the North Carolina Bar Association YLD.