On Tuesday, May 8th and Wednesday, May 9th, 2018, local firefighters and first responders will gather with lawyers from the Macon Bar Association to participate in a signing ceremony for Wills for Heroes. The ceremony will take place on the fourth floor of the Bibb County Courthouse in downtown Macon.
Macon Bar Association member Kristen Quinton and University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Agent Keishon Thomas are facilitating the Wills for Heroes Estate Planning Clinic for our Macon-Bibb firefighters and first responders.
The Wills for Heroes program was started by attorney Anthony Hayes in Columbia, South Carolina, shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In the days following the attacks, Anthony emailed the Columbia Fire Department asking what local lawyers could do to help the fire department, and the overwhelming need was for estate planning services.
The Wills for Heroes program provides a free estate planning service by bringing together first responders with attorneys, notaries and witnesses at a department station, training facility or headquarters on a predetermined event date. Since its inception, the program has provided more than 7,000 estate planning documents to firefighters and first responders, all at no cost to participants. Members of local legal communities in at least ten states have come together to coordinate estate planning events for their emergency responders.
Kristen Quinton is an Assistant Public Defender in the Macon-Bibb County Public Defender’s Office. She graduated from Mercer University’s Walter F. George Law School in 2004, and since that time, she has been a dedicated public servant. Kristen is a wife and mother who has taught as an adjunct instructor at Middle Georgia State College and Central Georgia Technical College, in addition to her duties as a public defender.
“Several years ago, the Macon Bar Association did this program in Bibb County. I was a volunteer that year,” Kristen explains.
After her initial experience with the program, Kristen began to coordinate Wills for Heroes programs herself: “Since then, I’ve kind of made it a mission to do the program every for few years. So with Georgia Legal Service’s help, I coordinated a Wills for Heroes drive in Baldwin County and in Jones County.” The drives were successful and fulfilling.
Local attorneys have always responded positively to the program, Kristen says.
“With each drive, I reach out to our local bar associations—whether it be Macon, Baldwin, or Jones County–and lawyers are always eager to dedicate their time and knowledge,” she says.
In advance of the Wills for Heroes event, first responder participants download and complete an estate planning questionnaire. Those questionnaires are then forwarded to an attorney to prepare a Will, a Financial Power of Attorney, and/or an Advanced Health Care Directive for the participant.
Attorneys receive the participants questionnaires approximately two weeks in advance of the event signing day. Volunteer attorneys also receive the necessary documents and guidance for preparing a Will, Financial Power of Attorney, and Advanced Health Care Directives so the volunteer attorney does not have to be a singular estate planning attorney. Lawyers across many practice areas have participated in Wills for Heroes.
The program does provide the recommendation that individuals with very large or complicated estates may want to consult estate planning specialists, but most first responders can take advantage of the free estate planning services offered through Wills for Heroes. Even first responders who already have wills can take advantage by getting their documents updated to reflect the changes in their families over time.
In addition to her law-related activities, Kristen is a 4-H’er who served as President of the Advisory Board for the Bibb County 4-H in 2012-2013. It was a wonderful coincidence that Keishon Thomas reached out from UGA with an interest in hosting an estate planning event this year.
“Around the same time I was thinking about doing another [Wills for Heroes] program, Miss Thomas from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension reached out to me wanting to also do will drives for needed communities. It just worked out that we both had a will clinic on our minds at the same time, so we came together to collaborate on this one with the firefighters.”
“This year, I decided to focus on fire fighters because when the program was previously done in Bibb County several years ago, it did not seem like many firefighters took advantage of the free wills,” Kristen explains.
“I was also very touched by the death of Lieutenant Parker here in Bibb County,” she continued, “and it served as another reminder of the dangerous work that our first responders do for us.”
Kristen and Keishon agreed to tailor their estate planning clinic to firefighters and first responders under the Wills for Heroes banner.
“Last fall we met with Chief Riggins down at the fire department, and he was enthusiastic about having this program to help our Macon-Bibb firefighters,” says Kristen. “We also met with Judge Sarah Harris of the Bibb County Probate Court to get guidance on the best way to do this drive in a community as large as Macon-Bibb. She gave wonderful advice and has also been a whole-hearted supporter of this year’s drive.”
Following the model of Wills for Heroes, estate planning questionnaires were distributed to local fire commanders for them to share with their firefighters. The questionnaires ask questions that help the lawyers determine which documents to prepare for each individual.
According to Kristen, around 100 local firefighters completed questionnaires requesting help in preparing the estate planning documents. Then those questionnaires were collected and distributed to the lawyer volunteers, who are members of the Macon Bar Association, who use the information to prepare the documents. The program is still adding attorney volunteers, and any local attorney who is actively engaged in the practice of law can participate even if they are not members of the Macon Bar Association.
When the program participants gather at the Bibb County Courthouse on May 8th and 9th, attorney volunteers will review the draft estate planning documents with each participant to ensure that they understand and agree to what they are executing. Once finalized, the documents are signed, witnessed and notarized in a formal signing ceremony.
Kristen hopes that this event shows our firefighters and first responders how much they are appreciated, while also bringing attention to the positive roll that attorneys play in our community. Wills for Heroes is a commendable way to accomplish both of these goals.
To volunteer, please email Kristen Quinton at firstname.lastname@example.org or Keishon Thomas at email@example.com