Wills for Heroes in Virginia

First responders are some of the greatest heroes in our society, and the salary they earn in no way provides full compensation for the dangers they face in the line of duty. They put their lives and futures at risk to help strangers every day. We owe them our gratitude at the very least.

One way that estate planning attorneys have been able to show their gratitude to first responders is to create free estate planning documents to protect them and their families. Recently, attorneys Jennifer Porter and Stephanie Himel-Nelson volunteered their services to help first responders through Virginia’s Wills for Heroes program. “Giving back to our local community is very important to us,” Jennifer explained. “We are pleased to be able to use our estate planning experience to serve our first responders.”

Since many people are unfamiliar with Wills for Heroes, we thought it might be helpful to explain how the program works and how first responders can take advantage of the benefits.

It Started After 9/11

The Wills for Heroes program was born of our nation’s tragedy on September 11, 2001. Hundreds of  first responders bravely rushed into the scene of the attack at the World Trade Center and many lost their lives serving others. 

After learning that many of these heroes did not have basic estate planning documents prepared to provide for their loved ones, attorneys in different states banded together to form a foundation to provide pro bono estate planning services to first responders. The program now operates through legal organizations in different states because estate planning legal requirements are state specific.

Recently, the national foundation struggled with a variety of organizational issues and it appeared that the foundation might cease operations. However, a reorganization is currently underway.

Virginia’s Wills for Heroes

The Virginia Wills for Heroes program offers free basic estate planning services to first responders who live in Virginia, along with their spouses. In Virginia, the program is sponsored and operated jointly by the Virginia State Bar Young Lawyers Conference and the Virginia Bar Association Young Lawyers Division. These umbrella organizations work with local bar associations and other organizations to provide the following services all across the state:

  • Simple wills
  • Powers of Attorney
  • Advanced Medical Directives

These documents protect you during your lifetime as well as providing for loved ones after you pass away. Advanced medical directives allow you to designate an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated and unable to make or communicate your own decisions. An advanced directive known as a living will enables you to instruct doctors about the types of treatment you would want in end-of-life situations if you are not capable of informing doctors yourself.

A financial power of attorney allows you to authorize an agent to manage your financial affairs so that if you become incapacitated, your agent can pay bills and handle other critical issues. And a will enables you to name the person you want to manage your final affairs, directs who should receive the property in your estate, and names your chosen guardian for your minor children.

How First Responders Can Take Advantage of Wills for Heroes

In Virginia, the Wills for Heroes program is open to sworn law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians. Free legal counseling and document preparation events are scheduled locally through local organizations, and those organizations may choose to make program services available to volunteer firefighters and volunteer EMTs as well.

To obtain estate planning documents through the program, first responders need to find a local event in their area. Because of the extensive planning and the investment of legal time involved, local organizations typically do not hold document preparation events every year. The Virginia State Bar recommends contacting nearby bar associations to see if they have an event scheduled in the near future. When the national Wills for Heroes foundation completes their reorganization, their revised website may provide more complete information for first responders looking to secure their estate planning documents at no charge.

Jennifer Porter Law, PLLC Supports Wills for Heroes

The legal team at Jennifer Porter Law, PLLC was gratified to serve at the most recent Wills for Heroes event in our area. Attorneys volunteering with the program are not permitted to market their services to first responders who have come for assistance, so the events are kept strictly pro bono. “We appreciate the opportunity to serve and to focus on the needs of those who spend so much of their time serving the needs of others,” Jennifer noted. “We hope we will have the opportunity to do it again soon.”