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Wills for heroes: A way to help those who help others

By Clark Walton
For the Salisbury Post
By their nature, and by necessity, the police, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders put the lives of others before their own lives every day.
When called to respond to a fire, a possible crime scene or an accident site, first responders oftentimes don’t know what situation awaits until they arrive, and whether they will be putting themselves in harm’s way. In the constant pursuit of helping others, avoiding the thought “what if I die?” is, for many first responders, an occupational necessity.
But as we have seen too often, both locally and nationally, first responders sometimes do pay the ultimate price in the name of helping others. And the spouses, children and other relatives of these heroes are left not only to grieve, but they also are left with other financial burdens and difficult decisions to make in their loved one’s absence. These decisions are often more stressful because many first responders, like the majority of the United States general population, do not have legal wills.
According to a Nov. 12, 2007, Forbes magazine article, a Harris Interactive survey done for Lawyers.com found that 55 percent of the general population had no will. Paradoxically, the numbers are even lower for first responders. Despite the dangerous nature of their jobs, an overwhelmingly large percentage of first responders ó although no official statistics are available, anecdotal evidence suggests as high as 80 to 90 percent ó do not have even basic wills.
The Wills For Heroes Foundation was formed to address this need. A non-profit organization founded by attorneys Anthony Hayes of South Carolina and Jeff Jacobson of Arizona after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the foundation works to assist first responders across the country in a number of ways, including providing free estate planning documents and other financial assistance programs.
The Wills for Heroes Foundation, through a partnership with the North Carolina Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, has been active in North Carolina in the past year. The Foundation and the Young Lawyers Division have held pro bono events for police departments in both Charlotte and Cary in the past nine months, and have been able to provide basic estate planning documents to over 300 first responders and their spouses during those events.
On Saturday, July 19, the Foundation and the Young Lawyers Division will be holding a Wills for Heroes event in Salisbury at the Rowan County Rescue Squad building at 1140 Julian Road. The event will be hosted by the Salisbury Fire Department and the Rescue Squad, however all first responders are eligible and welcome to participate, and again, all services are provided free of charge.
If you are a first responder and are interested in this program, please call the Salisbury Fire Department at 704-638-5351 to schedule an appointment and obtain other necessary information. If you are willing to serve as a volunteer for this project (notaries, witnesses, childcare assistance, or an N.C.-licensed attorney to draft wills), please contact Jacquelyn Terrell at 919-677-0561 or jterrell@ncbar.org. If you would like more information on the Wills for Heroes program generally in North Carolina, please e-mail me at cwalton@mayerbrown.com or visit the Foundation Web site at www.willsforheroes.org.
For our first responder heroes, a will may be an uncomfortable, but necessary, reality check. No one wants to think about their own mortality, but for our heroes in high risk occupations, stopping now to ask the tough questions such as “how will I take care of my loved ones if something happens to me?” may give their families peace of mind further down the road.
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Clark Walton is a Salisbury native and 2008-2009 Wills for Heroes Committee co-chair for the N.C. Bar Young Lawyers Division.

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