Many situations require professional legal advice, such as, drawing up a will, buying a business or adopting a child. But not everyone can afford it when it’s needed. One such option to getting the service you may need is through prepaid “legal service plans.” These plans require you to pay an annual “membership fee” or “retainer,” for access to legal services whenever you need them. Coverage varies from plan to plan and state to state, but most plans are geared to very basic legal needs, such as, landlord-tenant disputes, bankruptcies, buying and selling homes, adoptions and simple divorces. Most legal plans promote preventive care by encouraging you to get advice before you find yourself with a significant legal problem.
Legal service plans are sometimes offered through your employer, union or other membership organization for little to no cost to join. Individual plans are also available, most often sold through the mail, telemarketing or online and can cost from $100 to several hundred dollars a year.
Whether a legal service plan is for you depends largely on your situation. Before you pay hundreds of dollars a year to join a legal service plan, ask yourself a few questions:
- Do you have frequent or occasional legal questions?
- Do you have pre-existing legal problems?
- Do you fully understand what out-of-pocket expenses you may incur or the difference between a “simple” matter and a more complicated one, for which you will have to pay?
- Are you allowed to change lawyers if you are not satisfied with the one assigned to your case?
- Is there a satisfactory process for resolving any complaints you may have about the plan?
Before joining a legal service plan, particularly one whose track record is unfamiliar to you, contact your Better Business Bureau for a reliability report on the company and contact your state’s Insurance Commissioner.