Through Wisconsin's Wills for Heroes program, volunteer attorneys and support personnel participate in clinics scheduled at the request of first responder organizations around the state. At these events, volunteer lawyers prepare simple wills and other basic estate planning documents at no charge for eligible first responders and their spouses or domestic partners.
The national Wills for Heroes program was created by the Wills for Heroes Foundation after September 11, 2001, and is designed to assist emergency personnel in preparing basic estate planning documents to protect themselves and their families. The program launched in Wisconsin in the Fall of 2009.
Wills for Heroes in Wisconsin is sponsored by the State Bar of Wisconsin with the generous support of Foley & Lardner LLP, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, LexisNexis and the State Bar's Young Lawyers Division.
Explore the information below to learn more about the program, view our clinic schedule, request a clinic or volunteer.
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To support Wisconsin’s first responders who are prepared to pay the ultimate price in the line of duty, the Wisconsin Wills for Heroes program provides those who are eligible with the peace of mind of knowing that their affairs are in order should the unthinkable occur. This program is designed to provide free preparation of basic estate planning documents to eligible first responders. First responders are defined as publicly employed or volunteer: police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and the spouses/domestic partners of such personnel.
Trained volunteer attorneys and support personnel will go to locations across Wisconsin at the request of a first responder organization and set up a clinic, at which time the volunteer attorneys will draft basic Wills, Living Wills, Health Care Powers of Attorney, and Financial Powers of Attorney for eligible first responders and their spouses or domestic partners. First responders and their spouses or domestic partners must complete an estate planning questionnaire before their clinic appointments. Estate planning education is also provided to first responders at the clinic.
More information about the program is available in the form of Frequently Asked Questions.
To schedule a clinic, first check with your employer or local first responder organization. You may also want to review our clinic schedule to see when the program will be in your area.
Only Wisconsin “first responders” with an individual net worth of $650,000 or less are eligible for this free service coordinated through their employer or first responder organization. Those eligible include Wisconsin publicly employed or volunteer:
- Police officers
- Spouses or domestic partners of such personnel
First responders with assets in excess of $650,000 ($1,300,000 for a couple) are not eligible to participate in this program.
Your estate (for Wills for Heroes purposes) consists of your cash, tangible personal property, stocks and bonds, real estate (equity only), savings, life insurance (anticipated death benefit) and retirement assets (such as a 401(k) or an IRA).
If you have a large (greater than the asset limit above) or complicated estate or desire complex trust arrangements, this program is not available to you. You should instead contact a lawyer who focuses in the area of estate planning. Referrals to Wisconsin attorneys for such estate planning issues are available through the State Bar’s Lawyer Referral & Information Service (800) 362-9082 or online here).
Both you and any spouse or domestic partner must fill out and bring with him/her a separate estate planning questionnaire, even though the questionnaires may be similar to each other. You must bring your completed estate planning questionnaire and a government-issued form of identification to your appointment.
The estate planning questionnaire will answer some common questions and prepare you to discuss your needs with an attorney. It will also provide a convenient form to record your important information. All discussions with an attorney will be kept confidential. You will keep your questionnaire at the end of the appointment. This questionnaire will also help you organize information that the attorney needs to advise you and prepare your estate plan. Some individuals need complex plans that may require assistance beyond what is available in this program. The attorney assigned to work with you will advise you if that is necessary in your case.
This agreement is provided for your review in advance of the clinic. It will be completed at the clinic by the attorney and the participant. The agreement describes and limits the scope of the representation that attorneys will provide to participants through Wills for Heroes.
If you are an eligible First Responder and want to sign up for an upcoming local clinic, please review the clinic schedule below or click here to see if there is a clinic scheduled in your area. If there is a clinic scheduled near you, contact the site coordinator identified for that event to find out whether they will be able to fit you into the schedule for the clinic. You may also want to contact your first responder organization and ask them to contact us to request an on-site clinic (the request must be from the organization, not from an individual).
If you want to volunteer at a clinic as a witness or a notary, please review the clinic schedule below or click here to see if there is a clinic scheduled near you. Additional information for volunteer attorneys is available here in the members-only area of the State Bar website (log in required).
Request A Clinic
Wills for Heroes is organized around a series of hubs where our equipment and volunteer coordinators are located. The program is not yet active in all areas of Wisconsin. If your first responder organization is near one of our project hubs in Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee or Wausau, please click here to fill out our clinic request form.
A clinic requires the participation of volunteer attorneys, witnesses, notaries and support personnel. If you want to volunteer at a specific Wills for Heroes clinic, you can do so by clicking here. Additional information for attorneys is available here (login required).
Donations to the Wisconsin Wills for Heroes program enable us to purchase necessary equipment and supplies, to travel throughout Wisconsin and to provide staff support to the program. To make a donation to support the Wisconsin program, email us or call (800) 728- 7788, ext. 6177.
Frequently Asked Questions for First Responders
Only Wisconsin "first responders" with an individual net worth of $650,000 or less ($1,300,000 for a couple) are eligible for this free service coordinated through their employer or first responder organization. Those eligible include Wisconsin publicly employed or volunteer:
- Police officers
- Spouses/Domestic Partners of such personnel
For Wills for Heroes purposes, a basic estate plan includes a will, living will, health care power of attorney and financial power of attorney.
If you qualify for the Wills for Heroes program and want to have a basic estate plan prepared for you, you must contact the site coordinator identified in the clinic schedule and schedule an appointment. In addition, you must complete an estate planning questionnaire before your appointment and bring it with you to your appointment. If your spouse or domestic partner is also having an estate plan prepared, he/she must also schedule an appointment, complete an estate planning questionnaire and bring it to his/her appointment.
After you check-in for your appointment, you will be required to watch a brief recorded presentation that will give you an overview of the estate planning process. Following the presentation, there will be an opportunity for you to ask questions. You will then sit with an attorney to review your completed estate planning questionnaire and discuss your estate plan in a confidential manner. A volunteer will enter the questionnaire information into a computer and generate the appropriate estate planning documents. The attorney will then review the documents with you to ensure that you fully understand them. After the documents are explained and any corrections made, the documents will be executed and notarized onsite. The goal is to complete the entire process in one meeting.
From start to finish, including watching the estate planning overview presentation, it usually takes approximately two hours to complete your will and other estate planning documents.
Yes. In an effort to show our appreciation for the daily sacrifices of Wisconsin's publicly employed and volunteer police officers, firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians, this free program is brought to you by the State Bar of Wisconsin, in partnership with Foley & Lardner LLP, LexisNexis, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, the Young Lawyers Division and other supporters.
To enable us to offer this service efficiently and at no cost, the estate planning documents prepared by the Wills for Heroes program do not cover many issues for persons with large or complicated estates, beneficiaries with special needs, or beneficiaries who are unable to handle their finances. The Wills for Heroes program is also not appropriate for individuals who want to set up or require sophisticated trusts.
Your estate (for Wills for Heroes purposes) consists of your cash, personal property, stocks and bonds, real estate (equity only), savings, life insurance and retirement assets (such as a 401(k) or an IRA). If you have a large (greater than $650,000 per person or $1,300,000 per couple) or complicated estate or desire complex trust arrangements, this program is not available to you. You should instead contact a lawyer who focuses in the area of wills and trusts.
Wills for Heroes does not handle the following areas/issues: 1) beneficiary designations on any assets; 2) estate, trust or probate administration and/or the avoidance of probate; 3) estate, gift, income and/or generation skipping transfer tax issues; 4) all trusts (other than a trust created under your will), including living (revocable) trusts, irrevocable trusts, special needs trusts and charitable trusts; 5) marital property issues; 6) citizenship/domicile of the first responder and/or spouse or partner (including estate planning issues); 7) business ownership and/or family business holdings; 8) assets held outside the United States of America and/or asset protection; 9) guardianships; and 10) any other issues which are deemed by any Wills for Heroes volunteer for any reason to be beyond the scope of the program, including but not limited to any issue that is more complicated, difficult or that will require significantly more time and expertise than can be provided by the Wills for Heroes summary services.
If you have a large or complicated estate or desire complex Trust arrangements, you should instead contact a lawyer who focuses in the area of estate planning. Referrals to Wisconsin attorneys for such estate planning issues are available through the State Bar’s Lawyer Referral & Information Service (800 -362-9082 or online here).
The lawyers and law firms involved in the Wills for Heroes program will not perform a conflict of interest search on your name or your spouse/domestic partner’s name. Therefore, if you are aware of any legal matter involving you or your spouse that might create a conflict of interest between you and the attorney or the attorney's law firm, please alert the attorney at the beginning of the interview so that we can arrange for another attorney to meet with you.
If you are an eligible first responder and want to sign-up for an upcoming clinic, please contact the site coordinator on the clinic schedule for that clinic directly to schedule an appointment.
You and your spouse/domestic partner will have the same appointment time but will meet with different attorneys to avoid potential conflicts of interest. Each spouse/domestic partner must fill out and bring with him/her a separate estate planning questionnaire, even though the questionnaires may be similar to each other. We encourage you to discuss your questionnaire with your spouse/domestic partner before your appointment, to ensure proper coordination of your estate plans.
Yes. You must be present to express your wishes and sign your estate planning documents, including your will.
You must bring your completed estate planning questionnaire and a form of government-issued personal identification.
Estate planning covers the transfer of your property at your death, as well as a variety of other personal matters and may or may not involve tax planning. It involves the counsel of professional advisors who are familiar with your goals and concerns, your assets and how they are owned and your family structure.
A will provides for the distribution of property owned by you at the time of your death. Aside from providing for the intended disposition of your property to your spouse/domestic partner, children or other beneficiaries, there are a number of other important objectives that may be accomplished in your will.
You may designate a guardian for your minor child or children if you have survived the child's other parent.
You may designate a personal representative of your estate.
A will is a useful tool that provides you with the ability to control how your estate will be divided at your death. If you die without a will, Wisconsin's intestacy laws will control how your estate will be divided, which may or may not reflect your wishes.
No. For example, if you designate a person as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, that person will receive the benefit without it passing through your will. If, however, you have a life insurance policy where you name your estate as the beneficiary, the proceeds of that policy will pass through your will when you die. The same principle applies to IRAs, retirement plans, annuities and 401(k) plans. You should check with your provider to make sure the beneficiary designations are correct and current.
Probate is the legal process of settling your estate in court after you die. Your property is gathered and inventoried, your debts, expenses and taxes are paid and everything left over is divided among the beneficiaries named in your will or your heirs if you have no will. Your personal representative is responsible for carrying out the terms of your will. If you have no will or did not name a personal representative, the court will appoint a personal representative for you.
Probate begins with the filing of an application with the probate court. The probate process ends when all debts, expenses and taxes are paid and all your assets are distributed. A probate judge will resolve any disputes over your will. Probate laws in Wisconsin apply to the estates of people who were residents of Wisconsin at the time of their deaths. Wisconsin's probate laws also apply to the residents of other states who own real estate in Wisconsin.
Having a will does not mean your estate avoids probate. However, some kinds of property and assets do not go through probate. These include property owned as joint tenants, jointly held bank accounts, payable-on-death accounts, life insurance proceeds and retirement benefits payable to a specific beneficiary (other than your estate).
Your will should be kept in a safe place. The original will should be placed where it can easily be found after your death. Make sure your personal representative, a close friend or a relative knows where to find it and can access it, particularly if you are considering placing the will in a safe deposit box. Neither Wills for Heroes nor the volunteer lawyer who helps you prepare your documents will keep a copy of your documents.
You may want to update or change your will if:
- Your marital status changes;
- A child or grandchild is born;
- There is a death in the family;
- You move to a new state;
- The value and kind of property you own changes substantially;
- Your personal representative moves away or dies; or
- Tax laws change. (Currently, you generally need to worry about estate tax laws only if your estate exceeds $3,500,000.)
Wills can be changed either by writing and executing a new will or by adding a codicil, which is an amendment to an existing will. The codicil must be written, signed and witnessed the same way as the will, and it should be kept with the original will.
Do not try to change your will by simply crossing out language or writing in new provisions. Crossing out language raises the question of whether you intended to revoke your whole will or just a part of it. Writing in new provisions will be ineffective unless appropriately signed and witnessed.
However, we strongly recommend you consult with an experienced estate planning attorney before making any changes to your will or other estate planning documents.
Frequently Asked Questions for Site Coordinators
Wills for Heroes is a non-profit program that began in Columbia, South Carolina after September 11, 2001, and is designed to assist emergency personnel in preparing basic estate planning documents to protect themselves and their families. The program launched in Wisconsin in the Fall of 2009. There are also Wills for Heroes programs in Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
Only Wisconsin “first responders" with an individual net worth of $650,000 or less ($1,300,000 for a couple) are eligible for this free service coordinated through their employer or first responder organization. Those eligible include Wisconsin publicly employed or volunteer:
- Police officers
- Spouses/Domestic Partners of such personnel
First responders and their spouses/domestic partners are referred to in these Frequently Asked Questions as “clients.”
For Wills for Heroes purposes, a basic estate plan includes a will, living will, health care power of attorney and financial power of attorney.
Each Wills for Heroes clinic is staffed with volunteer attorneys, notaries and witnesses. Each clinic will have about 25 volunteers, at least two of whom will be attorneys who are estate planning specialists. These volunteers will be recruited by the State Bar. Each Wills for Heroes clinic will also have a site coordinator. The site coordinator will be a representative of the first responder organization requesting the clinic.
As explained in more detail below, the site coordinator is in charge of clinic administration/logistics, including the following:
- Work with the State Bar to schedule a clinic;
- Reserve a location for the clinic;
- Reserve rooms with appropriate accommodations for the clinic;
- Recruit first responders and their spouses/domestic partners;
- Provide first responders and their spouses/domestic partners with blank estate planning questionnaires;
- Ensure that first responders and their spouses/domestic partners complete their estate planning questionnaires prior to the clinic;
- Receive supplies from Wills for Heroes;
- Set-up clinic rooms;
- Ensure that the clinic is equipped with adequate electrical outlets, extension cords, appropriate supplies and technology;
- Unlock the clinic location the morning of the clinic;
- Assist the estate planning specialist with set-up the morning of the clinic;
- Staff registration table during the clinic;
- Lock the clinic location following the clinic; and
- Work with State Bar to coordinate shipment of State Bar supplies following the clinic.
Wills for Heroes clinics are generally held on Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Assuming a full clinic schedule, volunteers may begin arriving as early as 8:00 a.m. in order to set up the computers, printers, etc. Volunteers can volunteer for the entire day or for the morning (9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.) or afternoon (12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.) shift. Clients will begin arriving in groups of seven at 9:00 a.m. The last group of clients will arrive at 2:00 p.m. and the clinic will conclude at 4:00 p.m.
Generally, Wills for Heroes clinics are held at police stations, fire departments and similar venues. The site of a Wills for Heroes clinic must be in Wisconsin. The site must have the following amenities:
- Electricity (7-9 grounded outlets in the estate plan document creation room);
- Sufficient parking for clients and volunteers;
- Accessibility (for example, plowed and shoveled entryway);
- An area with one table and chair for client and volunteer check-in;
- One break room with a refrigerator (the volunteers and site coordinator will use this room throughout the clinic for breaks/lunch);
- One room with 7 chairs for the estate planning orientation session (described below); and
- One large room with at least 7 tables and 23 chairs (attorney workstations, plus a couple extra chairs); and
- One room with 4 tables and 16 chairs (for estate plan execution). (This room can be combined with the attorney workstation room if space permits.)
The site coordinator must confirm the clinic location with the State Bar of Wisconsin at least two months prior to the clinic.
Assuming a full clinic schedule, every hour (starting at 9:00 a.m. and continuing until 2:00 p.m.), seven clients will arrive for their appointments. Each appointment is scheduled to last two hours.
Upon arrival for his/her clinic appointment, the client will check-in with the site coordinator. Each spouse/domestic partner must fill out and bring with him/her a separate estate planning questionnaire, even though the questionnaires may be similar to each other. In order to successfully check-in, the client must bring with him/her a completed questionnaire and a form of government-issued personal identification. If either of these requirements is not met, the client cannot participate in the clinic.
After checking-in with the site coordinator, the client (along with the other six clients who have the same appointment time) will watch a brief recorded estate planning orientation session. Following the orientation session, there will be an opportunity for the clients to ask an estate planning specialist any questions they may have. The presentation and question/answer period is scheduled to last one hour.
Each client will then sit with an attorney to review his/her completed estate planning questionnaire and discuss his/her estate plan in a confidential manner. A volunteer will enter the questionnaire information into a computer and generate the appropriate estate planning documents. The attorney will then review the documents with the client to ensure that he/she fully understands them. After the documents are explained and any corrections made, the documents will be executed and notarized onsite with the assistance of the notaries and witnesses. Preparation and execution of the documents is also scheduled to last one hour.
A first responder and his/her spouse/domestic partner can have the same appointment time but will meet with different attorneys to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
Each clinic will be able to accommodate up to 42 appointments. If a first responder and his/her spouse/domestic partner both want to have an estate plan prepared for them, that counts as two appointments.
The site coordinator will be provided with a blank client sign-up sheet by the State Bar, in which the site coordinator should insert the client names. The site coordinator must forward the completed client sign-up sheet to the State Bar at least one month prior to the clinic.
The site coordinator must provide the following supplies:
- Tables (at least 14);
- Chairs (at least 49);
- Three-prong extension cords (at least 5);
- Garbage bags (2) (for shredding);
- Printer paper (at least 4 reams);
- Tape (to post signage);
- Notepads (at least 14); and
- TV and DVD player.
Wills for Heroes will provide the following supplies:
- Technical support contact information for the day of the clinic;
- Laptops and A/C adapters (8);
- Printers (2);
- Router/print server;
- Power strips (2);
- Extension cords (2);
- Extra toner cartridge;
- Pens – blue ink (at least 34);
- Staplers (at least 2) and staples;
- Folders/envelopes (8-1/2 x 11) to hold executed estate planning documents (with appropriate label) (1 per client);
- Wisconsin Probate and Estate Planning Statutes book;
- DVD of estate planning orientation;
- Estate Planning Questionnaire (blank) (3);
- Volunteer nametags (1 per volunteer);
- Volunteer sign-in sheet (1);
- Client sign-in sheet (1);
- Limited Representation Agreements (1 per client);
- Attorney Reference Materials binders (7);
- Witness & Notary Instructions (4);
- Separate Writing Agreement (1 per client);
- Authorization for Final Disposition (1 per client);
- Feedback and Suggestions (volunteer) (1 per volunteer);
- Feedback and Suggestions (client) (1 per client);
- Feedback and Suggestions (site coordinator) (1); and
- FAQs (Site Coordinator) (1).
The site coordinator should arrive at the clinic at least 1 hour prior to the start time of the clinic. The estate planning specialist will arrive at the clinic at the same time. The site coordinator and estate planning specialist should set-up the location as follows:
Signage around the clinic location
- Signage on exterior of building and in the parking lot to direct people to the appropriate entrance (if needed).
- Signage within the building directing people to: (1) the registration table; (2) the estate planning orientation session room; (3) the estate plan document creation room; and (4) the estate plan execution room.
The registration table and a chair should be located near the entrance to the clinic location. The registration table will be staffed during the clinic by the site coordinator.
The registration table should be equipped with the following:
- Sign-in sheet for clients;
- Sign-in sheet for volunteers;
- Volunteer name tags;
- Pens (3);
- Notepad (1); and
- Limited Representation Agreements (1 per client).
After clients sign-in, they should be given a copy of the Limited Representation Agreement and directed to the room where they will view the estate planning orientation session. The Limited Representation Agreement will be explained to them in the orientation session. Any client who has not completed his/her estate planning questionnaire or who does not have a form of government-issued personal identification may not participate in the clinic. Each spouse/partner must have a completed estate planning questionnaire.
After volunteers check-in, they should be directed to the estate planning specialist, who will assign the volunteers to workstations.
Estate planning orientation session room
- TV and DVD player; and
- Chairs (7).
Estate plan creation room
Prior to the day of the clinic, the site coordinator must verify with the State Bar the contact information for technical support the day of the clinic.
This room must be equipped with at least 7 grounded outlets that can be reached by the 7 laptops and 2 printers.
Attorney workstations (7), each of which must have the following:
- Table (1);
- Chairs (3 – 2 for volunteers, 1 for client);
- Laptop (1);
- Mouse (1);
- Pens (2);
- Notepad (1);
- Attorney Reference Materials binder (1);
- Folders or 8-1/2 x 11 envelopes (6);
- Separate Writing Agreements (6); and
- Authorizations for Final Disposition (6).
- Table (1);
- Chair (1);
- Printers (2);
- Printer paper (4 reams);
- Extra toner cartridge (1);
- Shred box/bag (1); and
- Wisconsin Probate and Estate Planning Statutes.
Estate plan execution room
Notary/witness workstations (4), each of which must have the following:
- Table (1);
- Chairs (4 – 3 for volunteers, 1 for client);
- Pens (4);
- Witness & Notary Instructions (1); and
- Client Feedback/Suggestion Forms (9).
- Table (1);
- Chairs (4-8); and
- Area for volunteer coat storage.
After the clinic, the site coordinator will:
- Coordinate with the estate planning specialist to confirm that all sensitive data has been erased from the laptops and/or placed in the shred box/bag.
- Complete the Site Coordinator Feedback/Suggestion Form.
- Send all Feedback/Suggestions Forms (client, volunteer and site coordinator) to the State Bar.
- Pack laptops, printers and other supplies provided by the State Bar.
- Coordinate shipment of laptops, printers and other State Bar supplies with the State Bar. They may be returned to the State Bar or they may be sent to the next clinic location.
Please feel free to contact Jeff Brown at the State Bar, (608) 250-6177 or org jbrown wisbar wisbar jbrown org.
Yes. If your organization can arrange the use of the necessary computer systems and printers at a location like a college or training center, that is an option. The computers would need to be set up to allow some degree of privacy for the volunteer attorneys and first responders. The HotDocs Player software program that we use to prepare the estate planning documents would need to be downloaded and installed on the computers along with a template file. To run that software, the computers need to meet the following minimum specifications:
- 900 MHz processor (2GHz, recommended)
- 1 GB RAM (2 GB, recommended)
- 25 MB hard disk storage
- HP LaserJet printer or PCL-based printer with at least 8 MB RAM (for printing graphical forms)
- Microsoft Windows 7, Vista, or Windows XP
- Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 or later
- Microsoft Word 2007, 2003, XP, 2000, or 97; or Corel WordPerfect X4, X3, 12, 11, 10, 9, or 8 (Microsoft Word 97 is not supported for use with HotDocs on Windows Vista. Additionally, WordPerfect X3 SP2 and WordPerfect X4 are the only versions of WordPerfect supported for use on Windows Vista. WordPerfect X4 is the only version of WordPerfect supported for use on Windows 7.)