Protecting Those Who Protect Us

HotDocs automation software powers the Wills for Heroes Foundation, creating free wills and other estate planning documents to first responders and their spouse or domestic partner.

Erik R. Blaine, attorney at Gregory M. Gantt Co. LPA and a former judge, volunteered to help with the Wills for Heroes program when it was first brought to Ohio in 2008 by Chris Albrektson, assistant executive director at Dayton Bar Association. In 2009, Blaine became the lead attorney and trainer for the program, working pro bono, as do all the attorneys who take part in this program.

“Through the generosity of our bar association members who volunteer their time, and the entire Albrektson family, this program has not only continued, but it has grown since it first was brought to this area,” states Blaine, now in his 14th year of service with Wills for Heroes.

Wills for Heroes was created after the September 11th attacks when it was realized that many of the first responders – firefighters, law enforcement, paramedics, etc. – who ran into the World Trade Center towers lacked even basic estate planning documents. The Wills for Heroes program was developed to address that. The pro bono program provides essential legal documents free of charge to the nation’s first responders, including wills, living wills and powers of attorney. By helping first responders plan now, they ensure their families’ legal affairs are in order in the event of a tragedy. The 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit Wills for Heroes Foundation supports Wills for Heroes programs in 30 states, giving back to the community and to “protect those who protect us.”

HotDocs Makes It Fast and Error-free

Prior to the pandemic, and again now, the organization sets up clinic-type meetings that are scheduled with first responders and their spouses or partners. When they arrive, they are placed with a team that consists of an attorney and a support staff person. The attorney is there to advise the first responder. The support person enters all the information into HotDocs. “These are not easy topics to deal with at all, so the more conversation we can have the better,” states Blaine.

HotDocs provides a template that allows for a standardized process while bringing the offering to a wider array of people. “HotDocs absolutely streamlines the intake and the efficiency of the program. The templates focus our attorneys and volunteers and provide them with guidance to ask the right questions and keep within the scope of the program. We can guarantee that when first responders leave, the documents they have are some of the newest documents, are compliant and variables are minimized. Without HotDocs we could not do that,” continues Blaine.

The sessions take anywhere from 20 minutes to one hour. During this time, data about the client is entered into the client information sheet in HotDocs and then automatically populates other documents that are needed. The forms that may be completed during this session include a last will, durable or financial power of attorney, health care power of attorney, living will, and donor enrollment registry form.

Forms are then printed, notarized, and witnessed. The first responder and/or spouse or partner will leave with all original documents.

“It feels really good to be recognized and get a little help along the way,” states a Wills for Heroes recipient.

At the end of each clinic, the organization deletes and scrubs all sensitive data from the computers used so that client confidentiality is strictly preserved.

The Future of the Program

HotDocs began donating software to the Wills for Heroes Foundation in 2001 and recently provided all new licenses to the organization.

Because of HotDocs, the organization has had the opportunity to utilize standardized forms and incorporate not only estate planning practitioners who know this area of law and do it day in and day out, but also those attorneys that don’t do this every day such as litigators and transaction attorneys. With just an hour and half of training on the subject matter and the HotDocs program, they are ready to help.

Program Expands Based on Need

To date, the Wills for Heroes program in Dayton, Ohio, has drafted approximately 2,000 estate plans for first responders and spouses or partners free of charge and is one of the most successful programs nationwide. Because of this success, a Wills for Veterans program was created in 2017 in conjunction with the Dayton VA and the federal court.

The Wills for Veterans program was started with the help of a federal magistrate judge. For this program, volunteers do the exact same thing they do for first responders, but for veterans. On Veterans Day each year, Blaine and the other organizers partner with the Dayton Veteran Affairs – second-largest VA in the country – to provide estate planning for those who are serving or have served our country. This program, like Wills for Heroes, has been very well received in the community. “These programs have brought the legal community together with area first responders and veterans from Ohio,” states Albrektson.

“I’ve loved being part of this program and can say that without HotDocs, the manual completion of these documents would be cumbersome to say the least,” Blaine concludes.