When Central Point resident Kim Roby signed on for prepaid legal service more than 10 years ago, she figured it would come in handy if she ever had a major legal issue crop up.
Ironically, the program, while it proved an asset during a land dispute in recent years, wound up proving most valuable in day to day needs like writing — and updating — a last will and testament, paperwork for property management needs and legal letters written for a handful of reasons over the years.
Prepaid legal services can be purchased through a few dozen providers around the country, found through the phone book or a basic online search. Some services provide prepaid legal exclusively while other companies include the protection in a list of other financial products, bundled together.
When shopping for prepaid legal, research the protection being offered and ask the agent for local references. Says Willeford, "It's as important to ask what the coverage is not as well as what it is."
Most prepaid legal plans run the gamut in terms of "hours of defense" provided but consultations, letter writing and other services are usually included and not counted against the time limits per year. Coverage ranges from $15 or less for an individual to around $25 for families. Children are covered by some plans through college years.
Beginning around $15 each month in most cases, prepaid legal services offer an unlimited number of attorney consultations, legal letters and defense from a qualified, local attorney in the event a member is sued.
While dozens of companies provides prepaid legal, and should be carefully researched, a low cost plan with tangible benefits can be a wise investment.
"I signed up about 10 to 12 years ago because, at the time, it just seemed like a good idea," Roby says.
"I didn't have specific reasons other than I was thinking about having a will done and, legally, with my partner and I, we just wanted to make sure all our assets were protected. Every couple [of] years, we have the wills updated, which if we didn't have a service would be a pretty big expense."
She adds, "I've probably used it six to eight times. It's hard to beat for $16."
Prepaid legal became a buzzword in the '90s, almost as common as other types of protection like roadside assistance and prepaid funerals. While most consumers are quick to realize the value of medical insurance, Pre-Paid Legal Services agent Jim Willeford says prepaid legal, from a reputable company, is three times more likely to be used.
"The bottom 10 percent of society winds up with legal aid, the top 10 percent can afford $200 an hour and the other 80 percent usually decide they can't afford legal help so they decide they'll just wing it," he says. "For as little as it costs, there's no reason not to have this protection."
With a range of providers and plans, often ranging from less than $15 to around $26 per month, most prepaid legal plans offer unlimited consultations — usually within 24 to 48 hours, letter writing in the instance of creditor issues or legal disputes and a certain number of hours of legal defense per year. Like any contract you enter into, be sure and check references before signing anything.
Medford resident America Fucci, an agent for Primerica Financial Services, says she could offer an endless list of reasons why prepaid legal is important to have for individuals and families.
Will writing is at the top of her list, especially important for people with children. Second on her list? Consultations and professionally written letters.
"It's great if you need an attorney's advice on any matter, or you simply need a letter written or a phone call made on your behalf," she notes.
"If creditors threaten to take action against you for an ex-spouse's debt, someone is injured on your property and they decide to sue you or your landlord refuses to refund your cleaning deposit "¦" The list goes on.
Says Fucci, "It basically gives you access to professional legal experts at top quality law firms around the country."
While prepaid legal cannot be canceled for excessive use, two factors worth noting are that pre-existing issues cannot be pursued with plans purchased later and members cannot use the service to wage a lawsuit; only if they, the member, are sued.
"The crux of the plan is not to encourage people to go out and become litigious," Willeford notes.
"It's to allow you to defend yourself from a litigious society. But if you have been mistreated and find out on consultation (which is free) that you are still within the statute of limitation, you'll get a discount on the usual rates."
A decade later, Roby wonders why anyone would choose to not have prepaid legal.
"It just really makes a lot of sense to have this."