When it comes to addressing end-of-life needs and services, most people know it's important to plan ahead in order to make sure that their family will not be burdened with overwhelming decisions during a difficult time. Even so, many people put it off because they would rather not have to think about the topic.
It's the aim of companies such as Everest and Hyatt Legal Plans to make those necessary preparations and subsequent requirements after death as simple and beneficial as possible for all of those involved.
Out of mind
According to Mark Duffey, Everest's president and CEO, most people are involved in a funeral in some capacity roughly every 14 years.
"They don't want to think about it, they don't want to do it and ... most people haven't been involved with one for a long time - if ever," he says.
Consequently, they're often completely overwhelmed by the process. That's where Everest's funeral planning and concierge service comes in. Participants have 24/7 access to a knowledgeable adviser via a live telephone consultation, a nationwide pricing database, online tools and family support services such as price negotiating assistance.
"We're getting a whole lot of interest in it right now," says Duffey of the voluntary benefit. "It's timely, people get it, they understand that all you have to do is have an experience with this and know that you'd rather - No. 1 not have to have it - but No. 2 if you could get some help to get you through it, it would be big."
Everest entered the market in 2002 selling the product on an individual basis. It continues to be marketed along with whole life policies through Western Life Assurance in Canada and Mutual of Omaha in the United States.
Pricing is $495 for a single payment or $48 a year with a money-back guarantee, says Duffey.
Because no one had previously brought such a product to the group market, Duffey explains that it took several years to gain traction in the group arena.
When Everest first expanded to the group market through a partnership with The Hartford in 2009, "it changed the landscape and brought this [product] to the forefront," he says.
Of course, it's not just the funeral that people are often reluctant to think about.
Recent studies show that less than half of the American public has an updated will, or any will at all, according to Marcia L. Bowers, marketing director for Hyatt Legal Plans, a fully-owned subsidiary of MetLife.
Hyatt's core product is MetLaw, a group legal plan offered for $16 to $18 a month.
According to Bowers, 1,300 employers currently offer the plan. The estate planning services are the most utilized option.
"People haven't gotten wills yet, and each new generation has put off getting wills," she says. "It's a key draw when the employer [offers it]. People just drag their feet on getting or updating a will and it's perpetually the highest used service [along with] powers of attorney, which are part of that."
For all ages
Bowers calls planning ahead for the end of life "one of the key values" that a group legal plan offers employees. Services such as estate planning documents, preparations and codicils to wills, living wills, living trusts, powers of attorney, deeds and affidavits are just some of the examples."
All of those documents can be prepared by the attorney under our legal plans," she says. "And people of all ages take advantage of that, people who just recently got married or had children or even people who are retired and facing big end-of-life decisions."
Often someone will sign up for the legal plan with the sole intention of getting a will prepared, then find they need to update it several times in the following years when they have a baby or buy a home, Bowers points out.
"The estate planning is an ongoing process," she says.
That's been Frank Fimmano's experience at Aon Hewitt as well.
"We see a growing trend toward advisory services in varying degrees among the leading providers of legal plans - advisory services as well as legal services and in some cases financial advisory services," says the senior vice president with the firm's elective benefits practice in New York City.
"Life can confront an 80-year-old or a 30-year-old. Those services seem to be increasingly apparent in legal services plans."
Hyatt also covers a range of elder care matters for the parents of employees. Attorneys can provide consultation and review various documents, consult on issues related to Medicare, prescription plans, nursing home agreements, leases, power of attorney and more, Bowers explains.
Additionally, a few years ago Hyatt created an ancillary service called FamilyMatters where employee plan members can pay an additional fee to purchase estate planning documents for their parents.
Everest also offers expanded service. While Level 1 covers the employee, spouse and children age 25 and younger. Level 2 also covers parents and in-laws.
High customer service
Hyatt's MetLaw product is delivered through a national network of 12,000 prequalified plan attorneys from 5,300 law firms across all 50 states and U.S. territories.
With so many participating firms, clients are encouraged to meet in person with their attorney and develop a professional rapport with them, similar to developing a doctor-patient relationship, says Bowers.
Such contact ensures client satisfaction and also increases retention rates. The current retention rate is 83%, "because people get to know them and like them, Bowers says.
In addition to personal consultations, attorneys also conduct the work of will preparation, other documentation and representing the client in court, if needed.
For those not needing an in-person meeting, plan participants can expect an answer to questions submitted to Hyatt's client service center website within 24 hours.
Thanks to call centers in Toronto, Boise, Idaho; and Des Moines, Iowa, Everest offers access to a live consultant 24 hours a day.
"The ability to have somebody who's an expert and impartial is part of our big value offering, especially in a market like this where the No. 1 fear of consumers is being taken advantage of," says Duffey.
One of Everest's key values, says Duffey, is the company's ability to speed up the processing of a life insurance claim for clients such as Hartford or Aetna.
Through their "quick pay" option, Everest is able to eliminate the need for a traditional death certificate - which can take one and a half to two months to get - by replacing it with a funeral director's certificate that can be acquired immediately. With the funeral director's certificate the claim can then be processed in as little as 48 hours.
"Forty-eight hours or 48 days - which one would you rather get your claim paid in," Duffey asks. "Getting the help and then getting the money - especially in these times - has been very, very positive."
Perhaps of greatest value is Everest's pricing database, which lists a la carte pricing for all of the services offered at each of the nation's 22,000 funeral homes.
Because the Federal Trade Commission is in charge of regulating the industry, the pricing is available to the public, but much of it uses industry jargon that is often confusing to the general public, says Duffey.
Funeral homes offer package pricing to make the process easier, but the problem is people can end up with several elements they don't need, Duffey adds.
"What we do is we basically take all that stuff out and bust up the packages so you just buy the services you need," he says.
About half of consumers know which funeral home they'd like to use, but are often surprised when they discover the pricing variation between companies, says Duffey.
There is a 250% difference in service charges in the top 100 markets from the highest to lowest cost provider "for the exact same thing," he says.
"Most consumers think, 'The prices are about the same so it doesn't really matter where I go,' and that's obviously incorrect."
Duffey predicts that end-of-life services will only continue to grow as a voluntary benefit in the future.
"We're excited about it. I think this is going to be one of those benefits that you're going to see a lot more of," he says. "We have a lot of interest in it with some very large carriers."
Room for growth
Aon's Fimmano says not all of his clients will think of the benefits of end-of-life services when signing up for a legal plan.
But for those "that have drilled down a little more deeply than others" when thinking about ancillary benefits it's easy to see the advantage.
For example, Fimmano has a client in the media and advertising business with 2,500 employees who chose a legal services provider last year knowing that his population of employees - mostly ages 30-45 - that are experiencing credit and family challenges would appreciate having access to the benefit, especially in this economy.
"He thought that the more robust scope of such services would be better suited," says Fimmano.
As an introduction to legal plan services, Hyatt has also teamed with MetLife to offer voluntary life participants access to estate resolution and will preparation services.
According to Bowers, more than 2.8 million MetLife participants get will preparation enhancement and 1.5 million employees are covered for the estate resolution service, with some overlap accounting for those who receive both.
Additionally, MetLife recently introduced PlanSmart, a program that packages together a number of services including financial and retirement education, transition planning for people losing their life insurance, as well as survivor support for beneficiaries of life policy holders.
"Our business is really booming because consumer demand is so high for legal services," says Bowers.
Everest works directly as a vendor to carriers, with both Hartford and Aetna now adding their service to all of their new and renewal proposals.
"I think what Hartford and Aetna saw was that by adding us into their base package they end up selling a lot more business," says Duffey. "Because when it gets down to the final four and all the prices are about the same and it gets to the jump ball, we end up tipping the jump ball to our carriers more often than not."
Everest covers approximately 15 million people now - "a huge increase from about two or three years ago," says Duffey.
"It's coming across as being a very positive new benefit."
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