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Minnesota lawyers launch "Wills for Heroes" program

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Wills for Heroes
The program aims to make getting a will as painless as possible for first responders. The attorneys will work for free.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Stawicki

Those who risk their lives facing bullets, fire, and hardened criminals spend a lot of time convincing themselves and their worried loved ones that they'll come home at the end of their shifts.   

Blaine Police Chief Dave Johnson says it's a necessary mindset for work that requires putting your life on the line every day.  He says it's particularly difficult to get rookie officers thinking about the unthinkable;  drafting a will.

"You know when you're younger there's always a lot of uses for your money. So when you're deciding how to allocate it and you think, 'Well, I feel good, life is good, and I'm young and I've got some time to wait.'  Most of the time you do, but sometimes you don't," he says.

Blaine Police Chief Dave Johnson
It's difficult to get rookie officers thinking about the unthinkable; drafting a will.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Stawicki

Johnson says the situation hit home last August when one of his detectives committed suicide.  The detective left behind a wife and daughter but no will.  That left family and friends trying to figure out how to pay bills that just kept rolling in.

Around the same time, the head of the state bar Patrick Kelly heard about an Arizona program called "Wills for Heroes" that he thought would work in Minnesota.   Kelly says the program aims to make getting a will as painless as possible for first responders.  The attorneys will work for free and go to their clients.

"The program is set up to have a team of lawyers go into a department in coordination with a city or county department of first responders.  There will be questionnaires filled out and once completed a team will come in and do quick estate planning and simple wills," Kelly says.

The program also applies to first responders' spouses, widows and widowers.  In the Arizona program, lawyers there drafted more than 2300 wills and health care directives in their program.

Patrick Kelly, President, Minnesota State Bar
Minnesota State Bar President Patrick Kelly says, "This program is to provide some peace of mind for first responders."
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Stawicki

Moorhead Fire Chief Joel Hewitt said the idea could not be more timely.  Just last week, nine firefighters died battling a blaze in Charleston, South Carolina.  

"I think people in the fire service have been either at an incident like that or will face an incident like... that type of structure fire," Hewitt says. People might relate back to them personally and what would happen if they were tragically lost and what would happen to their young family," he says.

Hewitt says last November he asked his firefighters to fill out a confidential questionnaire that he could obtain if they died in the line of duty.  Questions included who they wanted contacted, who in the department they wanted to accompany the fire chief to meet with a spouse or a children, whether they had a will and where the will was located.  Hewitt said each firefighter put the answers in a sealed envelope that he'll open only in the event they die on the job.  He said the state bar program will make it easy for those who didn't make out wills to obtain them.  

First responders wanting to take part in the program can schedule on-site clinics through the Minnesota State Bar Association.