It is open enrollment season and one of the benefits your employer is offering is legal insurance. Should you sign up for it? The answer to that question, like many other legal questions, is – it depends. Before making your decision, here are some questions to ask.
What exactly is covered?
All legal insurance plans will hype up the benefits they offer, but you need to dig a little deeper to understand what is covered. One of the benefits these plans like to advertise is coverage for estate planning. Some plans do actually cover a complete estate plan – a will and/or trust, power of attorney, and health care directive. However, other plans will only cover a “simple” will and define what qualifies as a “simple” will so narrowly that anyone who actually needs a will won’t qualify. Some plans will only cover advice or letter writing by a lawyer, but don’t offer much when it comes to actual legal work – drafting pleadings or representing you in court. Some plans offer a discount on an attorney’s fees – but sometimes this discount is only offered on an hourly rate, not on a flat fee service. Make sure you understand what is covered under the plan and what is not.
Are the benefits something that will actually benefit you?
Many plans will offer representation on speeding tickets, but how many speeding tickets do you expect to contest next year? Consider whether the benefits offered are something that you can benefit from. If you are not likely to use any of the benefits offered, it does not make sense to sign up for a legal insurance plan. However, if you know you will be getting divorced after the first of the year, or you are truly committed to finally getting your estate plan done – and you know that the plan provides the coverage you need – it might make sense to enroll.
What lawyers accept the plan? How do you find a lawyer on the plan? Can you choose which lawyer you use?
The benefits available through a legal insurance plan is only one consideration. It is also important to understand what lawyers will accept the plan and the process for working with a lawyer on the plan. Most legal insurance plans have a list of “in-network” attorneys that will accept the plan. Some plans have a strict process you must follow to be paired up with their attorney. Other plans will give you a long list of in-network attorneys or let you find an in-network attorney on your own (i.e. from the recommendation of a coworker). The more freedom you have in selecting the attorney, and the more in-network attorneys in your area, the more likely you will be to utilize your legal insurance plan. If your only options for attorneys are a big firm downtown in the city an hour away or the one attorney your neighbor had a bad experience with you likely won’t use the plan at all.
My experience with legal insurance plans and the one legal insurance plan I would recommend.
Over the last decade I have had some experience with a variety of legal insurance plans. As an attorney I have worked with a couple, I have checked into or considered working with a few more, and I have talked to many clients and potential clients who have had a legal insurance plan. While some plans have been alright, there have been issues, many of which I identified above. The plans don’t always provide the actual benefits the clients thought they would. There may not be any local in-network attorneys; or the client wasn’t happy with the attorney choices provided. Some plans expect the attorneys to work for such extremely low rates I wonder why a lawyer would sign up with that plan. Some plans provide little to no support for the clients or the attorneys through the process. There’s a variety of legal insurance plans out there and it is important to do your homework before signing up with one. Based on both my experience as an attorney and my clients’ experiences, I have been most impressed with ARAG and that is the one legal insurance plan I would recommend.
From a client perspective, ARAG has decent coverage. One benefit they offer is a complete estate plan – a Will with Power of Attorney and Health Care directive, and when needed a Trust, including deeds for real estate. They also offer a wide range of benefits in family law matters. While ARAG does provide coverage in other areas of law as well, my practice is limited to estate planning and family law, so I can’t speak directly to the value of that coverage. Finding an attorney in the ARAG network is easy. My clients have reported they are typically given a list of three attorneys who accept ARAG, but when they have asked for more information they have been given a longer list of in-network attorneys. While the most common way to connect with an attorney is by contacting ARAG directly and receiving referrals from them, it is also possible to choose an attorney you know who is in the ARAG network. I have had ARAG clients seek me out after getting my name from one of their colleagues who also had the ARAG plan. My ARAG clients have also reported that it is a very easy process to contact ARAG, provide the information on their legal needs, and receive a Case Assist number.
From a lawyer perspective, ARAG has been great to work with. To be an ARAG in-network attorney I agree to accept ARAG cases based on their fee schedule. While the fees are discounted from my normal rates, it is still a fair rate for my work. They have an easy online portal where I sign on, enter my client’s Case Assist number, and when the case is done submit my claim. ARAG then quickly processes the claim and pays my invoice for the covered work by direct deposit. ARAG has been great to work with on my end.
If your employer is offering ARAG as their legal insurance provider, seriously consider signing up this year. If your employer is offering another legal insurance provider, consider asking your coworkers if they have any experience with the plan and be sure you understand the plan benefits and available attorneys before making your decision.
If you are an ARAG client, please keep me in mind if you need a Minnesota estate planning or family law attorney.