By Scott Thomas
Learn more about Scott on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor
A top-notch physician can be accessed for as little as a $20 copay, if you have a good insurance plan. Most insurance plans vet participating physicians to bring a network of highly qualified professionals to you for the cost of a monthly premium or sometimes a simple copay. Physicians agree to trade their skills and services for prearranged rates; the insurance carriers know that their plan and network bring business to the medical community. It’s a win-win. This type of simple access with low-cost entry draws us into being consumers of services that we might not consider if we had to pay the bill out of pocket.
Now, what if you could use the same sort of plan when you needed legal help? If you are like most people, you don’t even realize that such a thing exists.
These legal protection plans do in fact exist, and they can be a great help to consumers. A consumer-driven membership plan works out the arrangement up front to allow you access to highly rated law firms and a network of dedicated legal professionals. As with the doctors who see you as affiliated with their biggest paycheck, you get taken care of beyond the copay. For many of these attorney networks the membership is the key driver or biggest paycheck they will receive, period.
In 2012 Decision Analyst, Inc., completed a research study titled “The Legal Needs of American Families.” It addressed the legal issues and costs, as well as the confusion and perceived lack of trust, that many people experience when looking for legal help. Here are the top 25 situations identified where Americans could use legal help:
- Auto accident
- Execution of a contract
- Securing a mortgage
- Traffic ticket
- Preparing a will
- Lease contract
- Setting up a trust
- Becoming executor of parents’ estate
- Being subpoenaed
- Vehicle damaged while parked
- Purchased faulty merchandise
- Identity theft
- Inheriting property
- Filing for bankruptcy
- A friend owes you money
- Injuring someone accidentally
- Leasing a vehicle
- Challenging a will
- Creditor taking legal action
- Property damaged while in storage
- Dog bit someone
- Tenant sued you
People become members of legal membership plans because life happens, legal services are expensive, and smaller clients are often overlooked. Legal membership plans give you the customer service and personalized legal attention you deserve. In the survey noted above, nine out of 10 respondents said that if membership plans were more affordable, they would seek legal advice for even trivial issues.
I have been practicing as a professional fee financial advisor since 1986. Many of the issues I deal with have a legal component attached: estate planning, real property, the raising and guardianship of children, asset protection, employment and retirement. I personally have a legal membership and have found that it includes much more than help with traffic issues, contracts or wills.
A simple phone call gives me access to a firm where the average attorney has 20 years’ experience and will talk with me about anything. In an emergency I can call and reach an attorney 24 hours a day. Does that sound like it would involve a hefty retainer? In fact, some legal membership organizations, such as Legal Shield, offer basic legal packages for less than $20 a month.
The average local rate I see for a complete will package is about $800 for a couple. Whenever estate laws, your wishes, desires, or family change, your will should be changed too. It’s no wonder most people do not even have a will. The numbers I see online and hear in conferences suggest more than 50% of adults do not have a will, and more than 70% do not have an enforceable or legal will. Far fewer have the other key documents: a health care directive, living will or power of attorney. If you subscribe to a legal membership plan, your will can be done professionally as part of the monthly membership fee, and you can update the will as often as you need to. (Custom trust work typically would be an additional cost.)
Memberships are becoming more common as we demand access to goods and services in a more affordable way: Consider auto club memberships, for example. If your battery dies or you get a flat tire, you don’t have to call your father or friends and ask them to drop everything to come help. You call the 800 number for your auto membership, and help is provided. Similarly, with a legal membership plan, you would not ask a co-worker legal questions or go online to research a problem; you could simply pick up the phone, with no worry that you’ll be charged or billed for advice.
No one plans to get sick, have an accident, or wind up in the emergency room accumulating hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills. Just as you cover medical costs with a membership plan—which we call health insurance—you can have affordable and easy access to legal protection and counsel.
Many people complain to me about the high costs of creating a will, establishing a guardianship or getting a contract reviewed. Now I respond that it’s only $20 a month for a membership that helps you address many of life’s issues. I recommend you learn more about this great service and get your protection plan in place today.