Lawyers are expensive. They may charge hundreds of dollars per hour for their time.
Many people who could really use legal counsel end up getting the short end of the stick because they can't afford a lawyer. The American Bar Association has said that about 80% of low-income people don't get the legal help they need because they simply can't afford the fees.
Legal insurance can be an affordable way to get the help of a lawyer when you're not sure you understand your legal rights or when you need legal counsel.
Who Can Benefit From Legal Insurance?
Almost anyone can benefit from buying a plan. Legal insurance doesn't cost very much, which means many people can take advantage of it.
It can help you find advice for many situations that come up as you're starting out in life, buying a home, or starting a family. Legal insurance can also help you later in life if you sell your home, or as you manage your assets and deal with estate planning.
One group who has a lot to gain from legal insurance is seniors, who are also at risk of being targeted by certain types of scams and fraud. Having access to a lawyer can help prevent seniors from falling victim to these types of ploys.
The cost of legal insurance varies between plans and providers. A standard plan can range from $10 to $25 a month. This works out to less than $1 per day. There are also plans that allow you to pay per service, so you're not stuck paying a monthly bill.
You might be better off buying coverage rather than waiting until you need help and paying high legal fees.
How Does Legal Insurance Work?
Like health insurance, legal insurance is something you buy before you need it. It is there to cover the cost of unexpected legal problems.
If your neighbor says he's going to sue you, you can't rush out and purchase a plan that day. It won't kick in and apply to a problem you already knew about. There are some companies, though, that offer coverage by way of discounts on legal services.
Existing issues, such as divorce, are usually not covered. But there are companies that may offer discounts on legal rates or coverage for a legal matter that is in progress. These could cover you even if you only call them after the fact.
There are often no deductibles or copayments. Some providers offer reduced fees if you have a unique problem that forces you to go out of network for a lawyer.
You might have to pay the lawyer at the time of service. You would then seek reimbursement from the insurer for what you paid upfront.
What Do Legal Insurance and Prepaid Legal Plans Cover?
What your legal insurance will cover varies from plan to plan. Many of them, though, will cover the same basic types of counsel and legal representation. Here are examples of coverages found in various plans:
- Buying and selling houses
- Refinancing, consumer/creditor problems, avoiding bankruptcy
- Tax questions
- Single parent legal issues and questions
- Help with contracts and legal documents
- Preparing legal documents or letters
- Tenant rights
- Making a will or living will
- Estate planning
- Home improvement or contractor issues
- Consumer protection
- Traffic tickets
Each company will have its own limitations and exclusions. Be sure to get full details about waiting periods and eligibility for any of the above services before you buy a plan.
Does Your Home Insurance Cover Your Legal Costs?
Your homeowners' insurance provides some legal cost coverage under its personal liability coverage. It also might offer some coverage for identity theft or fraud. But these are only a few of the legal matters you might face.
Find out what your home insurance offers before you make a choice on your legal insurance plan options. Then think about looking for ways to fill the gaps. It pays to compare.
Legal Plans by Other Names
Legal plans go by many names. These include "legal protection insurance" (LPI), "prepaid legal plans" (PPL), or just plain legal insurance.
Before you buy a plan, you'll want to ask about access to services. You should also find out whether there are any exclusions, so you can be sure what you're buying.
Only when you know what is being offered can you accurately evaluate the cost.
Where to Get Legal Insurance?
Legal insurance can be part of a group plan that you get from your employer. Before buying your own policy, you should first find out if you already have coverage included through your work or other organizations you belong to. You may not need to spend money on a personal plan.
If you aren't covered through work, you'll need to buy a plan on your own. Personal legal plans are sold by specific legal insurance providers who specialize in this type of coverage. Here are a few options:
- LegalShield's Personal Plan offers emergency help around the clock. It will set you up with a local attorney for some specialized matters, and offers discounts with other lawyers who practice outside these areas.
- ARAG has been around for more than 80 years. It's one of the oldest providers of legal insurance with millions of customers around the world. It offers several personal plans you can choose from. There are also lots of resources on its website.
- U.S. Legal Services, Inc. is another provider that offers a "Family Defender Package."
Do Your Homework First
As with any type of insurance policy, do your homework before you pay for coverage. Not all insurers are created equal. Find out what type of services each plan covers. Then, decide if those services are going to meet your needs.