NCBF Program Spotlight: Wills for Heroes

Volunteers Provide Priceless Public Service To First Responders Through Wills For Heroes

Although things are far from being back to normal, the North Carolina Bar Foundation’s Wills for Heroes clinic at the N.C. Bar Center on April 24 did manage to rekindle familiar themes that have been a part of this program since its inception.

The in-person/virtual format may have seemed a little different, but the basics were still there: North Carolina lawyers providing their time and expertise for free by drafting wills, health care power of attorney and financial power of attorney documents for first responders.

The event even took place on a Saturday, as have most of our Wills for Heroes clinics, dating back to the first one which was administered by the NCBA Young Lawyers Division on Oct. 6, 2007. Since then, thousands of vital documents have been prepared by volunteer lawyers with the support of paralegals, law students, notaries public and staff.

For Wilson solo practitioner Susan Ellis, this was her fourth time volunteering for a Wills for Heroes program. Her participation is grounded in lessons she learned long before becoming an attorney.

Susan Ellis and Lisa McDougall

NCBF volunteer and NCBA member Susan Ellis, left, with Lisa McDougall of Wake County EMS

“My parents taught me that if you don’t spend some of your time helping others,” Ellis said, “it doesn’t much matter what you do with the rest of your time. Wills for Heroes is such a great program because you get to work directly with the first responders and their spouses.

“Unlike most of us, these folks go to work every day risking their health and safety. My hope is that helping them get these documents in place makes that just a bit easier for them and their families. Every time I have done this, the first responders and their spouses have been so thankful and appreciative, which is just an added plus because I always come away feeling so fortunate to have been able to help in this way.”

Wills for Heroes, she added, really does present an opportunity that is a win-win for volunteers and first responders alike.

“One reason I think this is an important program for the bar is we get to use our skills in a way that is positive all the way around,” Ellis said. “The first responders get needed documents in place and they feel much better about that, and the lawyers have the privilege of helping them do this, so everyone benefits.”

Becca Rushton of Jones Branz & Whitaker LLP in Raleigh was in college when our first Wills for Heroes clinic was held, but six short years later she began volunteering in earnest. Rushton previously chaired the program on behalf of the YLD, so her presence was not the least bit surprising when the NCBF conducted the April event.

Becca Rushton

NCBF volunteer and NCBA member Becca Rushton assists a first-responder family.

“I started volunteering with WFH in 2013, and I’ve been fortunate to increase my involvement over the years,” Rushton said. “The biggest draw for me as a volunteer is knowing that our state’s first responders have documents in place in case they, or their families, ever need them.

“The thanks and appreciation from each and every client reminds me what a valuable service we’re providing. By providing basic estate planning documents, we’re able to give first responders and their families peace of mind.”

For Durham solo practitioner Brandon Robinson, who currently serves on the NCBF Board of Directors, Wills for Heroes is special.

Brandon Robinson and Ileigh Kuga

NCBF volunteer and NCBA member Brandon Robinson with volunteer notary, Ileigh Kuga.

“While I have immensely enjoyed all of the NCBF’s pro bono venues in which I have participated, there is something quite unique about Wills for Heroes, because of the demographic for which this program was designed to serve,” Robinson said. “First responders – such as firefighters, law enforcement, and EMS personnel – help to sustain communities by putting their own safety in danger to keep us safe and well, and by doing so, they share with lawyers the function of promoting civil society and social cohesion.

“Wills for Heroes is deeply meaningful to me because I get to thank these genuine, unspoken heroes in my local community, even as I draw on my estate planning skills to add value to their families’ lives.”

Robinson touched on another aspect of Wills for Heroes that remains the same regardless of the format, and that is the genuine appreciation expressed by the first responders and their families.

“The first responders I worked with in Wills for Heroes, and their spouses, were warmly appreciative of the Bar Foundation’s offer of free services on their most compelling estate planning needs,” Robinson said. “But for Wills for Heroes, many of these public servants and their families would have never visited the Bar Center, nor interacted with lawyers in the same manner as I witnessed on a Saturday of volunteering. The clients I worked with left our sessions feeling much lighter now that they, their children and their loved ones were now provided for through the wills and powers of attorney that NCBF volunteers provided.”

Moving forward, Robinson believes the impact of Wills for Heroes will take on greater meaning.

“While Wills for Heroes existed long before America’s most recent awakening on criminal justice and racial equity issues,” Robinson said, “I see, in the aftermath of 2020, an unprecedented opportunity to use NCBA and NCBF’s current programmatic infrastructure to rebuild bridges of trust, goodwill and mutual understanding between members of the bar, and the law enforcement community.

“Lawyers volunteering through Wills for Heroes are ambassadors for the profession, and in engaging with law enforcement officers on the front lines of society’s most polarizing issues, there is an opportunity to heal communities who rely upon both lawyers and law enforcement in upholding the rule of law. In this space, as in society in general, civic-minded lawyers are the glue that holds North Carolina communities together.”

Upcoming Wills for Heroes clinics are scheduled for Charlotte in May and Fayetteville in June. Learn more on the Wills for Heroes webpage or email [email protected].

<  Previous article  —  Next article  >  |  MAY 2021 ISSUE PAGE