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NCBF Program Spotlight: Wills for Heroes

This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of North Carolina Lawyer Magazine. Read the complete article written by Russell Rawlings and view all NC Lawyer issues at

Although things are far from being back to normal, the North Carolina Bar Foundation’s Wills for Heroes clinic at the N.C. Bar Center on April 24 did manage to rekindle familiar themes that have been a part of this program since its inception.

The in-person/virtual format may have seemed a little different, but the basics were still there: North Carolina lawyers providing their time and expertise for free by drafting wills, health care power of attorney and financial power of attorney documents for first responders.

The event even took place on a Saturday, as have most of our Wills for Heroes clinics, dating back to the first one which was administered by the NCBA Young Lawyers Division on Oct. 6, 2007. Since then, thousands of vital documents have been prepared by volunteer lawyers with the support of paralegals, law students, notaries public and staff.

For Wilson solo practitioner Susan Ellis, this was her fourth time volunteering for a Wills for Heroes program. Her participation is grounded in lessons she learned long before becoming an attorney.

NCBF volunteer and NCBA member Susan Ellis, left, with Lisa McDougall of Wake County EMS

“My parents taught me that if you don’t spend some of your time helping others,” Ellis said, “it doesn’t much matter what you do with the rest of your time. Wills for Heroes is such a great program because you get to work directly with the first responders and their spouses.”

“Unlike most of us, these folks go to work every day risking their health and safety. My hope is that helping them get these documents in place makes that just a bit easier for them and their families. Every time I have done this, the first responders and their spouses have been so thankful and appreciative, which is just an added plus because I always come away feeling so fortunate to have been able to help in this way.”

Wills for Heroes, she added, really does present an opportunity that is a win-win for volunteers and first responders alike.

“One reason I think this is an important program for the bar is we get to use our skills in a way that is positive all the way around,” Ellis said. “The first responders get needed documents in place and they feel much better about that, and the lawyers have the privilege of helping them do this, so everyone benefits.”