by Marcia Bowers
Nearly 75% of Americans agree that planning for the future and protection of assets is important; however, only one-third actually have the necessary legal documents to do so, according to an AARP study. Many people cannot afford such services, or find the prospect of locating and working with an attorney daunting.
Beyond the cost savings, one of the benefits of a group legal plan is that it removes the employee’s burden of finding a reputable lawyer for common legal issues. With a group legal plan, employees do not have to research attorneys because the plan provider has already done so and can immediately refer them to a qualified attorney close to their home or workplace.
Attorneys can provide a wide range of assistance on issues that affect an employee’s future. From estate planning and elder care issues to debt and financial issues, having access to affordable legal services can give employees peace of mind when it comes to planning for the future.
Wills and Estate Planning
Creating a will is a common reason most people sign up for a legal plan, but there are many other ways a legal plan can help you plan for the future. Many of the legal documents that are necessary to ensure that a person’s wishes are carried out (also known as “advance directives”) must be drafted by an estate planning attorney. Common advance directives include: a living will, power of attorney, trusts, living trusts, and wills.
Here are some examples of situations in which a legal plan helps people with issues concerning wills and living wills:
Although Jessica is only in her 30s, she has decided she should draft a will. After working with a attorney to complete the will, Jessica finds out that her legal plan also covers amendments and codicils, so she can make changes to her will as needed. Since Jessica is still fairly young, she realizes how valuable this will be as circumstances change in her life.
John feels strongly that he should be able to determine what happens to him if he is put on life support and not able to communicate. After signing up for his company’s legal plan, John meets with an attorney to draft a living will, which will instruct his family and doctors on his wishes concerning life support.
Employees without access to a legal plan can easily spend an average of $290 per hour to get legal counsel to complete these documents. This average hourly cost is more than the enrollment fee for a full year of most group legal plans.
More and more Americans have financial planning responsibilities not only for themselves, but also for a loved one. In fact, more than 65 million people, or 29% of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aging family member, according to an AARP survey. From choosing the right nursing home, to setting up a power-of-attorney to finding answers to Medicaid questions, employees have a lot of legal issues to consider when planning for the future of a loved one. The following are examples of a how a legal plan can come into play for elder care issues:
Mary’s widowed father has just been diagnosed with dementia. Realizing that the disease may take away her father’s ability to make decisions about his own healthcare or finances, Mary consults an attorney in her legal plan network who recommends a durable power-of-attorney. This power-of-attorney will allow Mary to make decisions on behalf of her father should the need arise. Without this legal document prepared in advance, Mary would likely have to go through the costly process of working through the court system to appoint a conservator or guardian once her father is unable to make decisions.
Tim’s wife has Parkinson’s disease. The couple is looking into long-term care options. Realizing their savings won’t cover the high expense of skilled nursing care for very long, Tim is considering applying for Medicaid. After consulting with an attorney, Tim realizes that there are some ways he can still protect his assets even after he applies for Medicaid coverage. Most legal plans provide coverage for elder care legal issues; providing peace of mind to employees that they have someone to turn to for advice should they find themselves in the caregiver role.
A recent American Bar Foundation survey found that 25% percent of Americans surveyed reported at least one legal problem involving debt; and 21% reported at least one situation involving money. Financial matters often translate into legal matters, and create the need for an attorney to help put an employee back on the right path.
A group legal plan provides access to attorneys for a wide range of financial-related legal matters. Here are some examples of how a legal plan can help with financial issues that affect employees’ future:
After Michelle and her husband divorce, she’s in financial trouble and considering declaring bankruptcy. Michelle contacts her legal plan’s client service center and describes her issue. Within minutes, she is given the name and contact information of a nearby attorney who specializes in personal bankruptcy. The attorney gives her the information she needs to make an informed decision about her financial future.
Jim just read about a credit card breach at a store where he shops frequently. Although he has not yet seen any fraudulent activity on his account, he is concerned about the possibility that his personal information was leaked. Realizing that his legal plan covers identity theft issues, Jim contacts an attorney to find out what actions he should take to protect himself. Jim walks away with information on how he can protect himself from any future identity theft issues.
Having an attorney to consult on financial-related matters is a top benefit for legal plan members. A growing number of employers are implementing legal plans to help employees resolve financial and legal problems.
With ever-increasing health care costs, employers need to maximize the value of their benefit programs to retain talent while minimizing costs. A voluntary benefit, such as a group legal plan, can meet the needs of your client’s employees now and in the future while giving them peace of mind. q
Marcia Bowers is director of Sales and Marketing for Hyatt Legal Plans, a MetLife company. She has 20 years of experience in the employee benefit business and has implemented group legal plans for hundreds of employers. She has conducted consumer research and developed thought leadership articles regarding the value of legal services for employers and employees alike. Bowers earned a JD from the University of Akron School of Law and belongs to the Cleveland Chapters of the American Advertising Federation and Sales and Marketing Executives. With 1,700 sponsors, Hyatt Legal Plans is the market leader in group legal services and was recently named Customer Service Department of the Year at the American Business Awards. For more information, visit www.legalplans.com.