First responders face inherent dangers when they clock in at their jobs.
In light of those risks, Kristine Havlik leads an effort to ensure they can report to work knowing their affairs are in order.
Havlik, a business lawyer with Foley & Lardner LLP, helps oversee the Wisconsin operation of Wills for Heroes, a national program that provides emergency personnel and their families with free estate planning documents. Started by an attorney in South Carolina in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the program has since spread to 10 states.
Havlik had been looking to take on pro bono work when her firm approached her in 2007 about establishing the program locally.
“I jumped at the chance to implement Wills for Heroes in Wisconsin because it was a matter that was right in my wheelhouse as an estates and trust attorney,” she said.
Havlik spent two years laying the groundwork for the program, including forging a partnership with the State Bar of Wisconsin and creating state-specific estate planning forms. It officially launched with a clinic for members of the Milwaukee police and fire departments in December 2009. Since then, the program has held 180 clinics and helped thousands of fire, police and EMT professionals and their families.
“First responders put their lives on the lines for us, sometimes on a daily basis,” Havlik said. “It gives them peace of mind to know that if the worst should happen, their family is provided for and their wishes regarding end-of-life decisions and disposition of their assets will be carried out.”
Clinics are typically held on Saturdays at police and fire stations. Volunteers include practicing and retired attorneys, as well as law school graduates. Each clinic has an estate planning specialist on hand to answer questions, she said.
“Working with these first responders for so many years and seeing what they do for us, it’s a great way to give back,” Havlik said. “Like I say at every clinic, this is our way of saying thank you for those that put their lives on the line every day and the spouses.”
The program now includes a volunteer hub in Madison and clinics have been held in Green Bay, Wausau and Stevens Point. With technology advancements, Havlik said the program will likely become more mobile, which will allow it to expand more easily to other parts of the state.