Feb. 15, 2023 – Here’s a great reason to volunteer with
Wills for Heroes: You use your legal skills to help first responders gain peace of mind – as a way to give back to your community.
Kris Havlik, of counsel for
Foley & Lardner LLP, Milwaukee, and Sherry Clay, an associate at Foley & Lardner, LLP, Madison, share something in common: They both dedicate time to keeping strong one of the most robust Wills for Heroes programs in the U.S.
Sponsored by the State Bar of Wisconsin, Clay has coordinated the program in south central Wisconsin since 2019, and Havlik was on the forefront of launching this program in Wisconsin and has coordinated the program in southeast Wisconsin since it began in 2009.
Volunteering “is very easy,” Havlik said. “Everybody who volunteers has loved it. Once they volunteer, they keep signing up. It’s a great way to network, it’s great to give back, and the first responders are so grateful.”
About Wills for Heroes
“Everybody who volunteers has loved it,” said Kris Havlik, of counsel for
Foley & Lardner LLP, Milwaukee. “Once they volunteer, they keep signing up. It’s a great way to network, it’s great to give back, and the first responders are so grateful.”
The Wills for Heroes program, which offers free basic estate-planning documents for police, firefighters, EMTs and their spouses, began in Wisconsin in 2009. It is a national program created by the Wills for Heroes Foundation in response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Clinics take place on Saturdays, traditionally at the first responders’ departments. During a typical Wisconsin clinic, attorneys and others volunteers prepare, witness, and notarize estate planning documents for the first responders and their spouses, who arrive by appointment. In a typical one-day, on-site clinic, they can complete approximately 36 estate plans.
In a typical season – the clinics run fall to spring – Clay coordinates eight clinics. “If we have a busy clinic season, we’ll have one almost every other week,” she said. In southeastern Wisconsin, they try to schedule one to two clinics per month from September through May. Each season involves numerous volunteers who help as many as 500 first-responder participants.
“We have one of the top Wills for Heroes programs in the country in Wisconsin,” Havlik said.
Give Back, Network, Learn Something New
The program always needs attorney volunteers, say Clay and Havlik. There are 26 volunteer slots for each in-person clinic. “You can choose to work in the morning or afternoon – or both,” Havlik said. Volunteers include attorneys, an estate-planning specialist attorney, notaries, and witnesses. The notaries and witnesses do not need to be attorneys.
Many volunteers, they say, return again and again. Why? “It’s a really good way to give back to our police, firefighters, and EMTs. They do great work in our community,” Clay said. “They walk out with the documents and some peace of mind thanks to what you did.”
Also, while the work is in estate planning, attorneys do not need experience to volunteer. “Most of our volunteers are not experts in estate planning and enjoy being able to volunteer in another area of law,” Clay said.
Most of the time, every volunteer who attends one clinic is eager to work at another. “I also like watching the volunteer attorneys network with each other,” Clay said. “They have a good rapport – and want to keep coming back.”
Clay invites law students to volunteer – the documents they create are reviewed by an attorney before they are signed. With some clinics, as many as half the volunteers are law students.
“It’s a great way for the students to practice interacting with clients and drafting documents,” she said. “I enjoy seeing them grow.”
Now, with the option of volunteering for ongoing virtual clinics, there is no limit to the number of attorney volunteers they can use. “For virtual clinics, each volunteer lets me know how many participants they’re willing to take on at a time,” Havlik said.
“And we’ve had volunteers from all areas and types of practice: large and small firms, solo attorneys, those who are retired and those who are new.”
Foley & Lardner Support Makes It Happen
Wisconsin has a strong Wills for Heroes program thanks to Havlik and Clay and Foley & Lardner’s commitment. The firm’s support includes providing billable credit for the hours required for the two regional coordinators – roughly 14 hours of work per clinic, as well as for the numerous attorney volunteers from Foley. They also help with much needed supplies for the Wills for Heroes program. “Foley has a huge commitment to pro bono, and Wills for Heroes has received great support from Foley,” Havlik said.
Shannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by
email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.
Havlik was part of the program’s inception in Wisconsin, where planning began in 2007. “The State Bar through its pro bono program and its Young Lawyers Division agreed not only to partner with us at Foley, but also to sponsor this program,” Havlik said.
Havlik jumped at the chance to lead the program. “This was a great way for me, an estates and trusts attorney, to give back to my community,” she said.
Since the first clinic in Milwaukee in fall 2009, the program has held hundreds of clinics and completed more than 5,300 estate plans for first responders in the state.
Clay, an associate with the firm, first participated as a law student and new lawyer before becoming the south central regional coordinator when the prior coordinator retired.
“I really enjoy working with the first responders,” she said. “You can see they are relieved to have a plan in place for them.”
COVID Pivot – and a New Way of Helping
“I really enjoy working with the first responders,” said Sherry Clay, an associate at Foley & Lardner, LLP, Madison. “You can see they are relieved to have a plan in place for them.”
The COVID pandemic truncated the 2019-20 season, with 10 clinics scheduled in March, April, and May 2020 canceled. The interruption was temporary, with a shift to virtual clinics after only a couple of months. “With COVID, we had to do things a little differently,” said Clay.
Havlik, with the support of the State Bar, initiated a new protocol for virtual clinics that included using a questionnaire for participants, who sign a limited-scope-representation contract. Volunteer attorneys created the documents with information from the questionnaire, then communicated with the participants for approval. Participants received instructions on how to get the required witness and notary signatures.
The pivot to virtual took a couple of months of work and some software updates. “Our clinic software updated so volunteers could download and use it on their personal computers. Before, we could only run it on the computers dedicated to the program,” Clay said.
As a result: “We did 22 different first-responder organizations between July 2020 and December 2022,” Havlik said. “The response from volunteers was tremendous.”
The Future Is Both
In-person clinics recently resumed in fall 2022 in south central Wisconsin and in January 2023 for the southeastern Wisconsin programs. “It feels good to be back in person,” Havlik said.
The COVID benefit is that, thanks to adjustments in the program, Havlik and Clay can offer in-person or virtual/hybrid clinics (or both).
“We just held in-person clinics in Mount Horeb and Sun Prairie in March and anticipate scheduling at least another four clinics over the next few months.” Clay said.
In the southeastern region, clinics recently were completed for the Wisconsin State Patrol, Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office, Milwaukee Fire Department, and Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, said Havlik. “We have four additional clinics scheduled for the West Allis, Waukesha, and New Berlin police departments, and Wauwatosa Fire Department.”
With virtual/hybrid clinics, volunteers meet with the participants via video or over the phone at a time convenient to both. The attorney then sends the documents to the first responder for review and then signature ahead of a signature event hosted at the first responder’s site.
There are at least six upcoming hybrid clinics, with more in the planning. “These allow us to serve areas we otherwise wouldn’t be able to, because of distance or size of the department,” Havlik said.
“It’s a great program. Join us! Sign up! It is, honestly, the volunteers who keep this program going,” she said.
Wills for Heroes: Where to Sign Up and Upcoming Clinics
Volunteers are needed for the Wisconsin Wills for Heroes program, for both in-person and virtual/hybrid clinics. No estate-planning experience is necessary.
Find out more on the State Bar’s Wills for Heroes webpage, where you’ll find information on how to volunteer, FAQs, a clinic tool box, as well as links to subscribe to the Wills for Heroes elist, view a training video, and event materials.
See and sign up for upcoming clinics on the
State Bar of Wisconsin Pro Bono Program site on Eventbrite.com.
Another place to look for upcoming clinics is on the
State Bar of Wisconsin Pro Bono Portal.
Upcoming Clinics: In-person Clinics Take Place on Saturdays
March 4, 2023 | 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
West Allis Police Dept.
11301 W Lincoln Ave
West Allis, WI, 53227
March 25, 2023 | 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
UW-Madison Police Dept.
1429 Monroe St
Madison, WI, 53711
March 25, 2023 | 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
City of Waukesha Police Dept.
1901 Delafield St
Waukesha, WI, 53188
April 1, 2023 | 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
New Berlin Police Dept.
16300 W National Ave
New Berlin, WI, 53151
April 22, 2023 | 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Wauwatosa Fire Dept.
11601 Underwood Pkwy
Wauwatosa, WI, 53226
April 29, 2023 | 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Fitchburg Police Dept.
5520 Lacy Rd.
Fitchburg, WI, 53711