A will is something that should be in place well before it is needed, if for no other reason than the sake of those left behind. I know this. However, in my world, knowing about a situation and actually doing something about it quite often are two diametrically opposed concepts.

Three years ago, I went through a life-changing event that demanded I update my will. Three weeks ago, on the eve — literally — of major surgery, I finally got around to doing it. Fortunately, one of my best friends is a notary public — and the type of friend who doesn't mind me showing up on his doorstep when most people are fast asleep.

That frantic exercise reminded me of the Wills for Heroes Foundation, where volunteer attorneys work with first responders on a pro bono basis to develop wills and related estate-planning documents. Apparently, there is great need for such services. For example, the foundation notes that most of the first responders who perished as a result of the 9/11 attacks did not have a will; of the nine firefighters who died last year battling a warehouse blaze in Charleston, S.C., eight did not have a will.

That startled me, at first. It's one thing for me not to have an updated will; a few readers' barbs aside, mine is not a dangerous job. On the other hand, first responders put their lives on the line every day. It seems counterintuitive that so many would go to work each day without a will in place.

But pulling together a will requires one to contemplate one's mortality, something most people try to avoid. Will preparation, if done properly, also is time-consuming and expensive. Perhaps most important, the typical person doesn't expect to die today. The arduous and unpleasant task of preparing for death gets pushed aside and eventually buried under seemingly more pressing tasks, such as paying the bills or buying shoes for the kids.

Of course, for those first responders without such vital documents, will preparation and estate planning are the most pressing tasks. Kudos to the Wills for Heroes Foundation, which claims its attorneys can spit out estate-planning documents in about an hour. But they can't do it alone. The foundation is in urgent need of laptop computers. If you have one that you've recently replaced, or are about to, please consider donating it to the foundation. (Visit www.willsforheroes.org for more information.)

First responders are very special people. When we're running out of a burning building, they're racing past us — in the opposite direction. They richly deserve our help. Please consider giving, if you can.